/ Food & Drink, Health, Shopping

Wrap rage – the everyday packaging that hurts to open

Man opening jar

You’d complain loudly if you bought a new car and had to fight to get the door open, so why do we have to put up with difficult-to-open everyday packaging?

Three quarters of us think that everyday packaging is harder to open than it needs to be. One Which? member told us:

‘Recently I found my camera card was full and bought a spare. I found that I could not open it without scissors so bought a pair from WH Smith. I then found that I could not get the scissors out of their packaging because of a nylon cable tie. An electrician lent me a pair of cutters so that I could remove the scissors and then unpack the memory card.’

It’s a story we’ve heard before on Which? Conversation, from Harry:

‘On the way to an event, I remembered I had forgotten to take the scissors. No problem, I thought, as there was a supermarket on the way. But at the checkout, it became clear that the only way I was going to be able to use them was to find another pair of scissors to open the packaging.’

But the struggle to get into household goods – from food to toiletries to medicines – has a more serious side, and some worrying implications for our health and wellbeing.

Some packs pose painful problems

According to our survey, four in ten people say they have hurt themselves while trying to open packaging in the last two years. That’s a staggering 25 million people if we scale that up to the UK population.

The biggest packaging offender for injuries is the tin can. If we applied our figures to the general population, that would mean more than one million people are going to their GP or A&E at least once in a two-year period, simply as a the result of opening a tin.

And moulded plastic packs claim nearly as many victims, as well as being the biggest cause of irritation, annoying over half of people.

We’re resorting to weaponry to fight our way into packs as well, with 89% using scissors, 66% knives, 8% using Stanley knives, 6% screwdrivers, and a worrying minority resorting to razor blades (4%) and hammers (2%). Here’s just one example of someone using a knife to get into a package, shared by a GP:

‘A patient came in requesting a substitute prescription for her eye drops. She’d ruined the first bottle while using a knife to try and get into it.’

The ingenious jam jar lid

We know that manufacturers have to serve many masters: packaging has to be sustainable (reducing materials used), safe and secure, and keep our food fresh and intact in transit and on the shelves. Perhaps it’s no wonder that accessibility has taken a while to get to the top of their ‘to do’ list.

Some manufacturers have got it right – Duerr’s jam jar lid is ingenious. You twist an outer ring which loosens and pushes the fixed central panel away, breaking the seal. Whereas more traditional jars need strength to open them.

But I believe that packaging matters. It’s stopping a quarter of people from eating what they want, and a quarter of people regularly need help to open packaging. And more and more of us are living alone. For example, one older lady told me she has to wait for the postman to open jars and tins for her.

Manufacturers may soon have help to commit to easier packaging, regardless of the cost. An EU testing method was launched in 2011 to help manufacturers striving to improve packaging accessibility, using test panels of older people. This should become a British standard in 2014.

Do you agree that inaccessible packaging is an important issue, or do you think it’s just an occupational hazard?


I think that manufacturers whose products cannot be opened ought to have their managing directors put on television and forced to demonstrate how to open their products. There are thousands of items which have to be NOT able to be opened or gained access to ‘without the use of a tool’. Some packaging requires tools more complex than that required to open a 13A mains plug. Why should a 13A plug be easier to open than a toothbrush?

Squeeze and twist bottles (loo cleaner) are impossible for weak hands. I have an assortment of tools on my workbench to cope with opening. I can lever ring-pulls with a suitable stick and use a Y shaped opener with a stabiliser for most bottles. But when necessary I have hammered a screwdriver through the top of a bottle of pickles leaving lethal edges and thrown away sardines when the ring pull has failed and the tin opener couldn’t cope with the tight corners of the tin. I am increasingly preying on my guests, friends, visitors et al to de-cap purchases. I would prefer a ‘Clyde-Built’ product as opposed to an impenetrable package.

A simple device that I use opens effortlessly vacuum-sealed jam
jars (and the like) by securing the lids tightly and simply twisting
and it’s done.

Nothing cd be simpler.

Steve C says:
25 August 2013

Hi, my pet hate regarding packaging is the type of plastic used for rice. Tears in the plastic run like a ladder in nylon stockings. A slight nick will end up with half the contents on the floor.

james Chelmsford says:
25 August 2013

Your survey says it all- and I thought I was alone!

Alaster Yoxall says:
25 August 2013

Hiya to all,

That have commentated. Keep the stories coming. I’m keen to find out about problems but also items that you don’t buy because they’re problematic. It’ll help Which? and myself keep the pressure on.

stephen says:
25 August 2013

As many have said tin cans with ring pulls are awful, either the ring pull breaks completely and a tin opener has to be used or the pull is so hard you damage your fingers and often finish up with a lid only half removed.

The other big inconvenience I find are cucumbers which supermarkets wrap so tightly in film that the only way to remove it is with a knife which presents its own dangers.

I once bought an electric razor online it was delivered with no problem but it took two of us with scissors and a knife over an hour to remove the packaging. Surely excessive

jane scott says:
25 August 2013

I’ve noticed that medicines which are prescribed for, and used by the elderly are often difficult to open because one needs strong hands/fingers to undo the lids or caps. I have resorted to jamming the lid of a container in the hinge of a door in order to open it, and I have only mildly arthritic hands.
It seems that a lot of packaging is designed and tested by supermen. Surely it would be sensible for packaging companies to find out what the problems are for the consumers, women in particular who have real difficulties with lids on jars.
Let’s hope this campaign will have the desired effect.

Cannon printer ink cartridges are impossible to open without a very sharp tool & who wants the “free” photo cards anyway?

Once you have opened some things, especially medicines, a magnifying glass is required to read the instructions, why, why, why? Thoughtless, even cruel manufacturers of products for the elderly.

This is a bit off-topic, but it is something I feel very strongly about. I do not know the correct procedure but it may help to alert both the pharmacist and your GP. Many drugs are available from more than one supplier and the size of print and helpfulness of the information can vary significantly. A large pharmacist may be able to provide an alternative brand providing that the medicine is out of patent and the GP has not specified a particular brand.

Robert says:
26 August 2013

I am surprised that tins are still a problem as most have a rip tab these days. These also leave a pretty smooth cut edge too. (failing that the tin openers that cut the top off the side, rather than the more traditional top surface as shown in Which’s Friday email are far better and require less strength)
Tip: seen used by plane cabin crew – use a teaspoon to lift the ring pull up first.

Jam jars and the like have not been a problem – perhaps those who need help could ask shop to open/redo the lid at the checkout.

For me the worst offender is the hard clear plastic bubble round many items, such as a mouse or tin opener (I think some refer to this as a clamshell). I find the only easy way is to cut it open with kitchen scissors; struggling with no scissors to hand is the only time I’ve been injured in the last decade. Ripping that plastic open can expose some sharp and jagged edges.

john says:
26 August 2013

B&Q emulsion paint “basket” shaped containers. The plastic tag on the corner is removed easy enough but then try to get the lid off !!! mind your fingers

I have a packaging ‘cracking’ kit in a kitchen drawer and in the past ten years I can’t think of anything that has defeated me. For jars, I use a rubberised pad the size and shape of a saucer and that gives me a really good grip. Occasionally, I have to also add a strong pair of rubber gloves for extra grip on both hands. For cans, I have a Culinare Magican hand operated opener which also had a separate ring pull gadget with it and I now have no problem opening round cans or using ring pulls. One end of the ring pull gadget lifts the ring up a bit from the can lid and you then use the other end to lever off the lid. Inaccessible packaging had not yet defeated me or my kitchen scissors and stanley knife nor have I been injured by either the kit or the packaging. Electric toothbrush packaging was the most difficult to access. I complained to OralB several times over the years and I’m happy they have now made it easier to get at their toothbrushes, without compromising my hygiene.

I bought a Magican opener for my 87 year old mother after her 18 year old can opening grandson went away to university and she used it independently until she died at 92. She loved being able to open her can of creamed rice and microwave it herself without asking anyone else to help. We should all think of the elderly and disabled and their right to independence and complain vociferously to manufacturers if we have difficulty gaining access to their products.

Easier accessible packaging must not compromise product safety though.

I nominate you as our expert in dealing with difficult packaging, Figgerty. 🙂

It would be good if manufacturers would get together and sort out the problems, so that every item in your kit becomes unnecessary.

As you say, safety is important. For example, having jars that are easy to open increases the risk that they will be opened in the supermarket, but most have a button on the lid to check if they have been opened.

Figgerty figures it out [of the packaging]. Just don’t go out at night with that lot up your sleeve as it is still an offence to be “going equipped”! We find an old steak-knife works wonders on various types of packaging made from cardboard or plastic. For anything else a miniature angle-grinder would be a useful implement.

I think the shrink cellophane that encloses the screw caps of some products [e.g. Marmite] and splits if interfered with is a cheap and effective way to defeat tampering. It should mean the jar lids do not have to be put on with super force although in my experience they usually are. There ought to be a kiosk in the supermarket – after the checkout – where you can take your purchases to have them expertly and safely opened.

Thinking about the elderly, and the infirm of all ages, it’s about time the major food producers and retailers took the initiative and used their clever people to do something helpful rather than constantly applying their minds to more ingenious ways to trick us into spending more than we need to. They could start by putting the most popular lines for this market segment in more accessible positions in the aisles and making the labels clear and easy to read. So far as I know, cereal packets are the only ones that actually tell you how to get into them. No doubt some idiot will come up with the idea of supplying a free Band-Aid with every can or clamshell.

Alaster Yoxall says:
27 August 2013

The big problem for change has been that for man brands and retailers it’s a trivial issue. Indeed i believe the term ‘frustration free’ packaging which has become the norm pretty much sums the approach. Not getting into something is a ‘frustration’ a mere inconvenience….it’s a term i hate. I believe for a lot of people it’s more than an inconvenience.
The other problem is as people’s ingenuity shows. People find a way to get into the stuff so in the end it becomes a ‘non-problem’ for the brand owners/retailers. The good thing about the which? survey is the degree to which people don’t buy stuff cos they can’t get into it. This should concentrate minds I hope.
It’s just a long slog. I urge people to keep complaining and keep telling me your stories.


How about giving us a few more examples of familiar products where the packaging is clearly superior to that of competing items, like the example of jam jar lids already discussed. Obviously it is necessary to take into account the effectiveness of packaging in doing its job.

Only this morning I needed to puncture 3 small holes with a skewer, then drain almost half a litre of liquid out it. Then repeatedly hit it with a hammer whilst rotating it in the other hand.

Still, was a very nice coconut once I’d gotten into it.

Contrast this with the banana, which can be opened without touching the part that will be eaten. No wonder bananas are more popular than coconuts.

I haven’t read through all the postings yet, so I don’t know whether my “worst” tin to open has been mentioned. I have never ever opened a tin of corned beef without cutting myself, so I haven’t bought one in ages………perhaps they are improved, but it’s still the key on the side of the tin.The other bad one for me at the moment are some ring pulls……such as on small tins of sardines. More often than not, the ring comes away when pulled, and the rectangular tins are awkward to then open with a can opener.

There is a very good reason why pineapple rings are sold in round tins, but no reason other than tradition for corned beef to be sold in tins that are difficult to open with either the tear-strip or a can opener. There is an obsession with health and safety in the workplace, but it seems OK for companies to expose the general public to unnecessary hazards. What a crazy world we live in. 🙁

grumpy old ### says:
31 August 2013

I’ve had numerous packaging problems over the years, but the worst I’ve come across is the Fray Bentos pies in a circular tin.
Has anyone mastered the art of opening one of these? I’ve tried a number of different can openers, including an electric one recently purchased.
I will not purchase any more until they’ve changed the tin design.

The postman has just delivered two small Kitchen Devils knives, which had the blades encased in tough plastic. After thinking it amusing that a knife would need a knife to extract it from the packaging, i realised that a couple of small cuts with a pair of scissors was all that was needed to allow the knife to be withdrawn. So well done Fiskars for making the job easy, but why not point out what to do for those than dive in rather than study the packaging?

At the CWUAAT2016 Conference in Cambridge , researchers from the Inclusive Design Research Centre, Tongji University, revealed new insights into packaging operability based on their studies in China. Red wine is among the top most difficult to open packaging for Chinese elders

I have recently bought two different makes of ECO-friendly LED lamps.

It struck me as a bit ironic that they were both packed in hard-to-open blister packs, which can’t be recycled as they have an inseperable mix of plastic and cardboard.

In blister packs so that they can be on display Mine are in cardboard boxes bought from Poundland