/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Ouch! I was injured by impenetrable packaging

A hand with a bandaged finger

Easter eggs are generally a positive addition to my Easter, so imagine my discomfort when I inflicted a small wound on myself trying to break into the moulded plastic packaging.

Maybe this is peculiar to the Pearl household, but we seem to be forever wielding implements to try and get into food packaging or any moulded plastic that grips things like electrical goods in its jaws. Our trusty, one-toothed killer knife generally does the job, but I’m just waiting for the day I end up in A&E with multiple lacerations.

And it seems I’m not alone; the last time we had a Conversation about inaccessible packaging, the retractable knife was quite a staple in the war against plastic. Gerard Phelan shared his packaging frustrations:

‘CDs and DVDs get me worked up. They only have a covering of thin film, but it is stuck at the edge and I often find it very hard to find anything to pull. Like others I have to resort to a razor blade, but that risks damaging the case – or ME!’

The perils of pesky packaging

Funnily enough, data collected by A&E departments found that 67,000 people visited them each year due to an accident involving non-medicine packaging, costing the NHS over £12 million a year. This was thought to be the tip of the iceberg, with most people treating injuries at home. I believe this data collection stopped in the late 90s, but I suspect the injuries may not have gone away.

It’s the frustration too. I’m sure one of my incisors is worn down from trying to grind my way into food sachets. And don’t get me started on opening yoghurt pots in the sure knowledge that the dairy avalanche will hit me squarely on the front of whatever pristine garment I’m wearing.

If only I had a pound for every time my partner struggled to fight his way into a milk carton muttering: ‘If I was an old person with arthritic fingers…’

Freedom for fingers

There may be some small rays of light out there, but we’re a long way from perfect packaging. I’m sure digestive biscuit packets are better than they used to be, with those little red tabs you can pull round the top, releasing three crumbling biscuits. And what about those corned beef cans with keys – a serial offender for injuries in the late 90s – does anyone still buy them?

Joking apart, this can be a serious issue, especially for those with poor dexterity or impaired vision. Are you frustrated by impenetrable packaging? Do you avoid certain products because they’re just too much trouble? Or does it cause you or someone you know real problems?

Manon 1753 says:
10 May 2013

Reading through previous comments I’d like to add the pumps that now automatically come with the packaging of shampoos, face creams etc. They are unnecessary and wasteful. If the packaging is hard, take a breadknife and you’ll find another week’s or two weeks’ supply.
Tubes of toothpaste, suncream etc are very easy: using an ordinary shaprd knife, cut them into two roughly equal halves, then insert bottom part into top part. It’s a perfect seal and usually gives you another week’s supply.

The lids of jars of jam, pickle, etc. have to be pierced if the vacuum makes it impossible to remove them. I have never injured myself, but stabbing a lid with a small knife or other sharp object is potentially dangerous.

Perhaps we should be giving examples of packaging that is easy to open. Let me start by commending Duerr’s preserves, which have clever lid design that takes little effort to open. I suppose that there is some risk of interference before purchase but as with other jar lids, this can be checked by pressing the button on the lid.

Harry says:
16 May 2013

Microwave packs — they are supposed to be “convenience food” but far too often they’re “inconvenience” foods. Some are good, with film that protrudes from the edge and comes off quickly and cleanly in a single piece with a quick tug so your hand is away before the steam rises and burns your hand. Others just tear around the outside, leaving the film firmly in place. You have to hack it with a knife and then put your hand right over the hot food to be able to pick up the film which has by now fallen *into* the food.

Harry says:
16 May 2013

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. The cashier couldn’t help with that either.

Jackie says:
16 May 2013

Where to start? The list is endless –

Bottles of bleach with child-proof tops which cannot be opened by adults either

Dishwasher tablets – each one is individually covered in thin plastic which has to be cut off because it will not tear

Dvds – I have to stab at the sides of them with a pair of scissors to get into them

Screw tops that won’t unscrew – even my daughter can’t get into them

WeightWatchers ready meals – the film on the top of the meal will NOT tear off – it has to be cut all round the edge

Yoghourts – nearly all of them are difficult to open, with consequent danger of splatter

Cardboard cartons of fresh soup which can only be opened by pulling all the corners at once

Plastic cartons of fresh soup where you have to pull off a removable tab then break your nails trying to remove the lid (Waitrose, please note)

I’m sure there are many I’ve forgotten – I sometimes wonder who tests these things …

noony says:
28 August 2013

A man!!!!!

Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

The wrap in dishwasher tablets is made of PLA and it is dissolves in water. You do not need to peel it!!!!

Philip Scribins says:
17 May 2013

Waitrose orange juice packs with the plastic pulls are awful. If the pack opens it is impossible to pour without splashes eveywhere around. Packs with screw openings are fine, except that thay cost more. Why? Solution – buy the cheaper packs and cut the corner off.

Sarah says:
2 July 2013

I bought two Papermate pens in a pack today. Standard cardboard back with a hard plastic front. The problem was that the plastic met the edge of the card exactly all the way round so there was no way to separate the two, and the card was too tough to puncture without tools. In the end I had to cut the packet open. I hardly think that two biros costing £1 need that level of protection!

Peter says:
6 July 2013

I find bubble packs (glues, toothbrushes etc) very hard to open, usually requiring a Stanley knife!

margaret Brereton says:
21 August 2013

My husband attempted to open a set of extendable garden loppers. The top of the loppers were encased in sturdy plastic which was completely sealed. In order to open the packaging he used a pair of heavy duty serrated scissors. The scissors slipped and the point of the serrated edge pierced his hand and nicked his artery. there was blood everywhere. We ended up in A&E for several hours.

Perhaps it would be worth contacting the manufacturer about this, Margaret. They may say that the plastic is to prevent anyone injuring themselves on the blades.

John Baldwin says:
23 August 2013

My particular grouse is with blister packs of drugs. I have 3 chronic illnesses for which I take daily medication. Some packs, such as Atorvastatin and Oruvail are very easy to open. Others such as 75mg aspirin or Furosemide ar e difficult to access, especially with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Shouldn’t there be a standard for open ability for arthritis sufferers in their 70s


All the drugs you mention are out of patent and are manufactured by different companies. Your pharmacist may stock a different brand, which may be better packaged. I have even heard of pharmacists obtaining specific brands to help customers. Do have a word with them.

A GP will normally prescribe a product by the generic name, such as ketoprofen. This allows the pharmacist or company they work for to supply any brand. If the GP specifies Oruvail, the pharmacist must dispense this brand of ketoprofen. If a prescribed brand was a problem, you would have to discuss this with your GP

Having seen arthritic people struggle with packaging, I very much agree withy you.

Panduranga says:
24 August 2013

I find that most packaging these days is overdone and impossiblr to get into withoug the risk of self injury. Most times the packaging in not necessary and is a complete waste to the environment.
As regards pening tins, I have an excellent tin opener that seale the top and sides so it is impossible to get any splinters if tin or dirst into the contents and also stops you from cutting yourself. it is a “KUHN RIKON” tin opener. It is wonderful, stays clean and smell free, as it does NOT come inyo contact with the food. You can then use the lid to use again if only needing to use half of the contents. As for opening jars, I find that using the slilicone glove end of oven gloves great to open them as they do not slip and you have a better and larger grip space than you do with the normal sized jar lids using the ridged rubber type.
As for the other things that need a bomb to get into the tings, I an still working on that one.

Pat Dexter says:
24 August 2013

Although my hands are only slightly arthritic And I am a heathy 65 year old, I find most products a problem to open. My husband opens most things for me now. I love the ring pull cans and manage the jams, etc by stabbing the lid a couple of times with a corkscrew. Like many others I find CDs virtually impossible. My husband has strong hands but often struggles to remove lids, etc.

Anthony says:
25 August 2013

Most packages of almost anything are difficult to open. I had a mega problem with opening cans/tins so bought a new tin opener but know where in the instructions did it tell you that you have to hold the tin and opener up off the bench. Having found this out after returning my first new opener, it is now not a problem. I am disabled and obviously manufacturers have never thought of this. People with arthritic hands must have real problems (like myself) getting into 90% of any type of package.
Hope the Tin Opener hint will help a lot of people, as it worked for me.

Derek says:
27 August 2013

The type of bottle tops which have to be squeezed from the sides are a pain – literally -particularly when you have arthritic hands

Brian Palmer says:
27 August 2013

It has to be those clamshell plastic packages. I now wear kevlar chainsaw gloves when opening them because the edges which are left when I cut them open with the kitchen scissors are very sharp and I’ve had countless cuts across the backs of my fingers as a result. We used to joke about opening corned beef tins, but I reckon they’re a lot safer than this trecherous plastic.

Keith Wood says:
28 August 2013

Flora pro active milk, sold in litre Tetra Paks (barcode 8722700185222) has an internal seal with a pull-ring. I am able bodied but still often have to resort to threading the closed blades of scissors or a very strong spoon through the loop to break it open by pulling as I would a corkscrew. The plastic forming the seal is so thick that the loop sometimes breaks without breaking the seal.
It is called a “tamper seal”, but most manufacturers achieve tamper protection by giving the base of the screwtop a perforated seal, which this has too, so it is completely unecessary. And it must hugely increase the cost of the closure.
How any one without strong hands manages, far less someone disabled, I cannot imagine. And this for a product keen to proclaim a health message.
Please ask Unilever to remove this unnecessary internal seal.
I would also like Which? to start a campaign on this to force thoughtless manufacturers into taking action on this. Food safety regulations or legislation should be introduced to make packaging disabled friendly, but failing/awaiting that, voluntary guidelines c/should be introduced and a disabled-friendly logo awarded only to products with suitable packaging.

I like the idea of a disabled-friendly logo, Keith. Though I’m not disabled, I would buy products with the logo because I don’t like manufacturers making our life difficult.

noony says:
28 August 2013

The only draw back with that is, the companies would then charge extra. They always do for disabled people. Look at the price of special food! These companies cash in on other peoples disabilities, which is to my mind so very wrong.
I have a disability and have has doors slammed in my face (when I was on 2 crutches) spoken over my head as if I don’t have a brain either, but the best one was when I was out shopping with a friend who is blind. We got to the check-out at M&S and the cashier gave me the slip to sign as she was paying by debit card. we were both absolutely lived.
Why are staff not trained better on how to deal with people with disabilities? In this day and age, it is disgraceful and the people who treat us badly, may well end up like it themselves on day!!

Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

The screw top you mentioned is wadless and not an absolute barrier. You still need the ringpull. Try pulling sideways first before pulling the ring upwards.

D Strickland says:
12 September 2014

My mother recently gouged a chunk from her hand opening a box of Twinings Everyday Tea. I was there and confirm that the edges of the tabs are sharp and must have caused many an injury as it is quite a battle to get into the box.

I’ve written and posted a letter to Morrisons Customer Services Department in Bradford today because I cut my finger on a very sharp plastic lid (on the underside of it) which should be smooth and not sharp because it’s dangerous like it is. My finger was bleeding but is ok now and healing. I initially emailed Morrisons who sent me an automated, computer-generated response to say that they’d get in touch with me within 24 hours. They got back to me in 3 days! So I hand-wrote them a letter and moaned about how p****d off I am that all of their plastic tub containers have a sharp underside on lids and that I am concerned that children could cut themselves if they accidentally touch the underside of any plastic lids or a person with haemophilia won’t stop bleeding if they cut themselves and that as a writer, if any of the nerves in my hand had been damaged, I’d be getting my solicitor to speak to Morrisons bosses and Trading Standards officers.

The tub I opened was a prawn cocktail one but even my plastic tub/punnet of grapes from Morrisons has an equally as sharp an edge all around the lid. I feel better moaning about it in the letter I hand-mailed to Morrisons and if they don’t alter the design of their plastic tub lids then be it on their own head if kids, elderly people or anyone with the medical condition haemophilia hurts themselves grabbing any of plastic tubs from their store and accidentally running their fingers across the underside of the plastic lids. Ouch! They are razor sharp!

The emailed reply I got at first from a Morrisons rep was: ‘I hope your finger feels better now. and I shall be speaking to the factory who produces the tubs.’ Hardly any help that is it, just speaking to them? I’d rather the rep reassure me and promise me there and then that they will do all they can to make sure that their designers will smooth the sharp edges so that no other customer ends up cutting their finger on any lids!