/ 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?

Comments
Member

Joanna found some fascinating packaging-related injury stats from the 1990s (PDF file)

Those corned beef cans can be painful!

Member
Mo says:
5 April 2013

I especially liked the comment at the bottom of page 10 🙂

Member
Les Harvey says:
8 May 2013

My bugbear is what happens whenever I injure myself on the packaging?
I cannot open the packaging around the plaster I so desperately need,
because it is covered in my slippery blood.

Member
Sol says:
8 May 2013

I feel that this form of packing could lead to serious injury if some old or disabled person tried to open the plastic sealed packaging one finds from supermarkets. I definitely think the matter should be raised with your MP & get a campaign going to stop this unnecessary dangerous practice.

Member

I use a small knife with a retractable blade. This will tackle most packaging with ease and in many cases there is no need to have more than 1 mm of the blade protruding.

Member
Anthony says:
27 August 2013

If like an awe full lot of people for a lot of reasons cannot use a blade because their hands are not dexterous. Even 1 mm of blade can cause as much damage or more than opening the package.

Member
Mo says:
5 April 2013

Another casualty of too much packaging! I wish stuff just came in brown paper and string 🙂

Member

I’d love to hear about what products get your goat, and I’m including those ones that you can’t reseal, or sometimes even get the food out in the first place!

Member

Brazil nuts are a particular problem, requiring effort and skill to extricate from their shells. Coconuts are as bad and impossible to reseal.

In contrast, bananas are superb, allowing the user to access the contents without any tools and without contaminating the contents, a design adopted years ago for syringes and other sterile medical consumables. The packaging of a banana is biodegradable and even changes colour to indicate when it should be consumed. Bananas are also available in multipacks that can be split and sold singly. Clever packaging has made the banana the most popular fruit, even if others are more exciting.

Manufacturers could learn a lot from nature. Easy-peel oranges offer just as much protection for the contents as those oranges we have to struggle with.

Member
SMHayles says:
8 May 2013

I bought a packet of smoked trout 2 days ago. I think the packaging is called shrink wrapped. I nearly damaged my kitchen worktop tackling the packaging with a sharp knife to get the fish out. I did eventually but luckily it was only me eating it over 2 days because it came out in small pieces, not very presentable.

Steaks also come in this form nowadays and again I have mega problems retrieving the steaks. I have painful, arthritic hands and also problems with my eyesight so I hate this type of packaging.

Member
Clive says:
8 May 2013

Tetrapacks in virtually any shape or form, e.g. the cartons for Covent Garden soups. Lovely product, but to get all of it out you have to in effect dismantle the packaging and scrape at the inside with a spoon and then you have one oddly shaped sticky piece of waxed cardboard to get rid of and (usually in my case) splodges of product all over the floor. Or am I just being too mean/zealous?

Member
David Ellis says:
8 May 2013

CD cases for me too…I buy a lot of CDs to collect, so keeping the CD in mint condition is important, yet in order to actually take the CD out of the wrapping to play it I have to resort to using an untwisted paper clip to try and find just the smallest of gaps in the packaging I can slip it into and split the wrapping without damaging the CD case.

I am sure there must be a way of doing this easily, but in years of collecting CDs I have not found it! Perhaps I need to grow one very long fingernail just for that purpose!

Member
KEL says:
9 May 2013

Most biscuit packaging. There is usually an instruction to “Tear here” indicating the more or less approximate position of an invisible red strip on the other side of the wrapping the end of which is firmly glued down and inaccessible.

Member
Jeffers says:
21 August 2013

The large plastic bottles of Persil, bio and colour. Bargain price at £6 for 54 washes, BUT the bottle had plastic top on it (for using in the washing machine) which I had to resort to cutting with a sharp knife to remove it ! So after attacking it with a sharp knife it was unuseable. This really put me off buying this excellent product again. However, I now see Persil have introduced new bottle styles with a disc within the bottle. I tried it in store and it is so much easier ! They must have had many consumer complaints about the previous design. Unfortunately I never got round to complaining to them but someone obviously did !

Member

Packaging can be a real challenge away from home, without a knife or scissors to hand.

I recently bought an SD card and wanted to put it into a camera straight away but it was encased in tough plastic – no doubt to prevent shoplifters removing the card and leaving the packaging with its security tag. I did manage to extricate the card using a key, the only tool available, but it was a real fight.

Member
Cass says:
8 April 2013

I find the most impenetrable packing is saved for children’s toys. We spent a huge amount of time over Christmas hacking into multiple layers of wrapping, followed by tags, binding the toy to the excessive packaging, that were almost impossible to remove.

Cinderella Barbie (I didn’t buy it!), for example, came in a cardboard box with cellophane that was impossible to open as the interior packaging was fastened to the main box, so you had to literally rip the box apart. Once I was in, the doll was attached by 9 separate pieces of wire to the back of the packaging, some of which actually went through the doll itself (into the head and back out again, meaning that the very elaborate hairdo was spoiled in getting the wire out).

Baby toys were similarly packaged. I imagine that there isn’t much of a market for stolen unpackaged small toys costing under a tenner, so there is really no need to wrap and fasten them so excessively. Ironically, the more expensive toys such as the leappads were much easier to get in to.

Member
Clare says:
8 April 2013

Just this afternoon I was flummoxed when trying to open the packaging for my new mouse mat. I’m glad I am not alone with this issue.
Electric toothbrush heads are another I just cannot get to grips with.

Member

I wonder how many people have cut themselves using their teeth to get toothbrush heads out of the packet. 🙁

The Oral B ones are a challenge.

Member

Sticking plasters in individual packets with a tear-away strip on one side – that is too small to grip with your fingers as you bleed away.

Member

It was a moment of pride when I was considered old enough to open a tin of corn beef! The roll of thin metal on the key was razor sharpe. Have not bought any for years so I don’t know how it’s done now.

Today my pet hate is the cover on ready made meals. No problem piercing them before heating in the microwave, but complete chaos trying to get the film off afterwards without spilling everything or burning my fingers. The Sainsburys ones are great – the film peels of without problem, but all the others require the use of gloves and sharpe knives. Even then there is plenty of mess. If Sainsburys can do it why can’t the others?

Member
Clive says:
8 May 2013

Funny that- I have always found that while the film on Sainsburys’ ready meals can be peeled, what it seems to do is to separate into two layers and the layer that is left behind has no overhang to get hold of, and I always end up using a knife. (This is for where you have to peel the lid back before heating. After heating no problem as far as I am concerned – I have hardened fingers!

In the non-food area – ANYTHING IN A BLISTER PACK. The combination of cardboard and plastic seems to resist even fairly advanced tools like heavyweight scissors or craft knives

Member
Tony B says:
8 May 2013

Sainsbury’s plastic olive oil bottles – the ring-pull to get the seal out of the stopper can take your finger off!
Dettol antiseptic kitchen wipes – how to find the edge of the transparent self-adhesive flap to open the packet?
What about all the products you can’t completely finish? The wine box – dismantle completely, get the bag out with the tap to the bottom corner and empty as much as possible (about half a glass usually that won’t come out when in the box), then cut the top corner off the bag, turn it upside down and tip another quarter-glass out.
Or V8 juice – open the tetrapak top corner flap and cut the end off: you get at least 50ml more out.

Member

Next time I buy Braun toothbrushes I’m going to demand the shop opens the box for me at the check out, is just stupid really infuriating ! If only more things grew like bananas eh

Member

Gavin

I have just been looking at the packaging of the individual Oral B heads that my Braun toothbrush uses. I have fought with this for years. I now see that the card back is perforated around the perimeter, although tis is not obvious. If you push in one end, the back peels off easily – like a banana skin. Thank you for helping me to help myself. 🙂

Of course, that’s not going to help getting into the toothbrush, but they last for years.

Member
PeterT says:
8 May 2013

Not so much the hazards of opening packaging, but why is that when you open a pack of say sliced meat, it’s always the bottom slice that is closest to the opening? That means you have to open the whole packet to get to the top slice, which in turn makes the packet less resealable. A little forethought from the manufacturers/packagers woul make it so much better.

Member
Sue H says:
8 May 2013

The sort of flexible plastic bottles and tubes that shampoo, moisturiser, toothpaste etc come in – you cannot see when they are empty, and you cannot squeeze them efficiently to get the last drops out. I usually end up taking a serrated bread knife to them at great risk to myself. There is usually quite a lot left at the bottom.

Member
Norman says:
9 May 2013

Most tin openers will open corned beef tins so these should not be too much of a problem. One thing I find irritating is that plastic windows in packaging are not currently recyclable (at least in my council area). This means dismantling the package to remove the window before recycling the cardboard. Why can we not have a recyclable window too? It would save a lot of bother.

Member

I too am elderly with arthritic fingers. I struggle with M & S chilled fish and meat packaging although I have not really injured myself yet. It often has an over large tray and shrink wrap. Once I get through the first layer of shrink wrap with a sharp knife, there is another underneath. I have tried cutting the tray with scissors to get to the under wrap directly but it is too stiff mostly because of the tray raised edging. The desired object especially fish is not a pretty site by the time I have released it from incarceration. eg Kipper fillets with butter and also cod fillet bought at the same time

Member
MichaelL says:
9 May 2013

I have experienced many of the previously commented problems: yesterday I was replacing 2 G9 Halogen capsule bulbs, which you mustn’t get fingerprints on…..try cutting through the packaging trying not to dislodge the bulb while trying to make it accessible when wearing plastic gloves! Also removing a cucumber from its plastic sleeve.
I also think that unless packaging can be easily recycled it should not be used, e.g. Tetra packs need special machines to recycle it, our council doesn’t have them so it becomes general waste. If tetra packs were threatened with a ban the manufacturers would find ways of supplying recycling machines to councils.

Member

If you do touch the halogen bulbs, just polish them with kitchen towel or a soft cloth to remove finger marks.

Member
Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

Laminated boards burn well. The problem is NIMBYs opposing energy recovery plants, ie incinerators. What people tends to forget about packaging is that without it, food would spoil as it happens with 30-40% of the food in the third world.

Member
nontechy says:
9 May 2013

Sainsbury’s resealable envelopes for their wholemeal wraps although a good idea pose a real challenge. After having cut off the top along the dotted line there is very little plastic edge left to get a good enough hold to part the reseal strips. Sometimes these strips are so strongly fitted together the plastic envelopes get torn. The best way seems to be to get a small knife to part the strips at one end. I’m open to any suggestions for a safer way.

Member
Mrs Ann Day says:
9 May 2013

Some of the things I find most awkward to open are the bottles/containers that say “to open press down and turn”. These need quite a lot of dexterity and strength in your wrist/hand. This is especially annoying when you’ve been given pills/medicine to take and can’t get into the container!!

Member
Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

So, would you prefer the closure not to be child-proof so a 5 year old can go and poison himself by accident?

Member
Mrs Ann Day says:
9 May 2013

Lipstick – when you think you’ve used up your lipstick, you will find that there is often about as much in the base of the screw up part as there was on the top. A fiddly tip is to prise out with the handle of a teaspoon all the left overs in your lipsticks, put in a egg cup and melt in the microwave. Stir the melted lipstick and choose your best lipstick containers, unscrew them down to the bottom leaving quite a lot of enpty space on top, carefully pour in the melted lipstick and put in the freezer to set. You will now have one or two new lipsticks.

Member
Manon 1753 says:
10 May 2013

Shrink packaged fish, pull off seals on milk bottles, CD wrapping, all impossible for arthritic fingers. But the most dangerous in my book: pull off lids on cans. Call the pull off tabs, because how often do the tabs break off? How often does the lid open halfway only to get stuck, leaving one to complete the manoeuvre with one’s own fingers (and or a knife, or a screw driver or whatever is at hand) whilst trying not to cut the same fingers on the sharp side of the lid – or the tin? What was wrong with tin openers? They at least, allowed one to control the speed and to open the lid comletely, making it easy to remove. I have resumed opening tin with… and tin opener.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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 …

Member
noony says:
28 August 2013

A man!!!!!

Member
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!!!!

Member
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.

Member
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!

Member
Peter says:
6 July 2013

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

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member
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

Member

John

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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member
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!!

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
Cut my finger on a Morrisons plastic sharp lid when opening a tub of Prawn Cocktail! says:
5 May 2016

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!