/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Why can’t I open this pesky packet?!

Ever had that frustrating feeling when the delivery you’ve been excitedly waiting for turns up, but you can’t get into the packet? Or you’ve just bought a new shaver and the plastic casing is impermeable?

‘Ooh how exciting, my new video game has arrived! All wrapped up snugly in a bubble-wrapped envelope. Now to release it from its packet and pop it in my console…’

It was all going so well, but this vacuum-sealed plastic envelope had other ideas. I couldn’t open the damn thing with my hands, nor my teeth. It was impervious to my efforts as I tried to rip and bite at it.

Five minutes later, as I fell into a heap on the sofa after multiple expletives, I calmly looked a little closer at that packet. A packet containing a little video game box ordered online and shipped from Jersey, Guernsey or some other island. On the sticker was a description of the product and the words ‘may be opened officially’. May be opened officially? Well good luck to you officials, I’d like to see you try!

Without scissors to hand, this innocent little impenetrable pack was consigned to my drawer, unopened. There it remained for well over a week until I got so worked up that I took a kitchen knife to it. Finally, my video game was free.

The trials and tribulations of prising open packets

I’m sure this isn’t an experience limited to just me. I know scissors are quite a common and essential piece of kit for any household, but should you need to use anything other than your hands to get into the product you just bought? Using your teeth is bad enough.

One reader got in touch to say they had huge difficulties opening suppository packets. The reader added: ‘if you risk being poisoned and open one with your teeth, as an [elderly person] you are likely to lose or loosen the tooth.’

Sometimes it feels like these products are designed not to be opened. And maybe they are. That brings me to shaving razors – there’s been many a time where I’ve wedged my fingers into these razor packets, and the only thing I have had to show for it is a bloody cut from the plastic. Perhaps it’s difficult to open for a reason – so that shoppers don’t get hold of a razor blade with only their bare hands.

Still, I’m sure this phenomenon isn’t just relegated to potentially dangerous products – do you have any other examples of impossible to open packets? I’m just off to buy myself a pair of scissors, but how I’ll get them out of their packet is another question entirely…


The tough transparent covering on many small items allows the customer and retailer see the goods, helping to avoid mistakes. It makes it possible for shops to attach security tags to high value items and makes it more difficult for shoplifters to remove the contents. It also provides good protection, which means that there is less need for additional packaging, an important factor now that so many products are sent by post etc.

Scissors or a sharp retractable knife make it easy to open the packaging at home. I once spent ten minutes trying to get an SD card out of a packet when I wanted to check that a new camera worked properly before taking it home, so I can understand the problem. Still, I think the advantages outweigh this disadvantage, and anyone with arthritic fingers could probably get help from a shop assistant.

Children’s toys are often an absolute nightmare to open – plastic casing, metal ties, tape and a double layered cardboard box all for a toy that is designed not to break. My top tip is to remove all packaging from toys before wrapping and giving them as gifts. This is vitally important in preventing children (and parents) from having tantrums while trying desperately to open them. But before removing any packaging, it is worth checking that the recipient doesn’t already have the toy!

Cashmere addict says:
7 August 2012

As a widow with poor grip, I use scissors or retractable knife… carefully… so far without mishap. I often wonder what the seller’s reaction would be if an item is returned as faulty/unsuitable, as return policies often state items “must be in original packaging.” By the way, Patrick: it’s drawer, not draw!

Cashmere addict says:
7 August 2012

You’re welcome. If I did damage something, I would have only myself to blame and would chalk it up to experience: that’s where the “carefully” comes in! 🙂

I always have scissors and a knife handy as I receive packages several times a week. In fact I actually have a knife and scissors in every room as I need to combat lots of sachets and packages for my dogs too. DVD plastic coverings can be very frustrating.

Nick Morrison says:
7 August 2012

Pretty sure that the reason for some of the these packaging nightmares is to make it harder for thieves, for example when it comes to a cd, dvd or computer game most of the case are security tagged so a thieve would try and take the disk out of these case, the packaging they have prevents that, but yes it is a bit fiddly to open them at times.

For these products the packaging also ensures that no-one, including shop staff, has the opportunity to use or copy the DVD, etc.

Naphtalia says:
7 August 2012

My packaging bugbear is greetings cards. Easy to buy, impossible to open. I’ve torn many a card while trying to open the ‘protective’ plastic wrapping. Some cards do come with a perforated edge on the packaging that allows you to open it without scissors. But the majority don’t, so without scissors to hand you’re stuck! It sounds such a small thing but it’s beyond frustrating. Some times I think retailers don’t actually want customers to purchase items!

Try a small retractable knife from a DIY store. With the blade sticking out by about 1 mm, run it around a couple of the edges and the job is done in a couple of seconds without damaging the cards or envelopes.

I’m not sure why the manufacturers don’t make it easier. Perhaps they should employ someone with arthritic fingers to test their packaging, or maybe just someone with a brain.

Gerard Phelan says:
7 August 2012

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! Among the worse are CDs that provide a thicker opening strip and a little tab to pull. This always raises your hope, despite experience showing they break off and never work.

Indeed I also hate the similar teaser ‘easy opening’ strips (often coloured red) on packets of biscuits. They rarely work either.

I usually find with blister packs that by the time I have released the contents I have destroyed the instructions printed on the back.

CDs and DVDs can often be opened with a biro – some sealed packages have a self stick flap which is easily opened. What gets me are the Ebay senders who use about two yards (or for the metric users amongst you two metres) of Cellotape to cover the envelope. But scissors or sharp knife is very effective.

Which scissors? 😉

Allen Handy says:
7 August 2012

Patrick, have you ever thought about the meaning of words ? The object in question is a razor and the person using it is a shaver. The razor cannot shave without the shaver using it. It is typical of todays’ misuse of the English language. Another one that I hear so often is the use of the plural after the word ‘none’ which means ‘not one’. ‘None are’ is used all the time and people don’t even know they are doing it wrongly, even on the BBC. I would love it if it were published far and wide so that even those who teach English could pass it on to their pupils. I’ve gone on too long, sorry. P.S. I have just noticed on this page that whoever has done it should be told that you cannot be ‘bored OF’ but ‘bored WITH’ something ; where does education feature in your employees ?

Language evolves, Allen and online discussion is generally informal, like everyday speech. Members of the Which? team use respectable English compared with some of the contributors, and any major problems are corrected promptly.

Criticising use of language and grammar takes the Conversation off-topic and can be regarded as offensive, so perhaps we should meet up somewhere else, perhaps at pedants’ corner. We could discuss problems such as misplaced apostrophes. 🙂

The letters page of the Times has recently been carrying an amusing series of anecdotes about how gulls have mastered the art of opening food packages that humans can find difficult.

Maybe the answer lies in evolution.

Interesting. I wonder if razorbills make good pets…..

barbara says:
7 August 2012

I find it difficult to open the white plastic film Weetabix is tightly wrapped in without shredding the contents.

That wrapping is so smooth and slippery and tightly stuck down. Fighting at the breakfast table for breakfast – what a way to start the day. Can’t imagine that in an advert but it would be funny!
I think I usually free the first Weetabix with a knife.

par ailleurs says:
7 August 2012

Yes, it’s the dreaded blister packs for me every time. OK I can see the security issues with some products but when you do finally attack them with scissors firstly you’ve cut the instructions but secondly and for me far more irritating, you’ve made a razor sharp edge which is seriously dangerous to your own hands and also anyone who is subsequently dealing with your waste.
As a footnote I’d also like to second the comments concerning Allen Handy’s post. I think that language is a wonderful thing, both in traditional and vernacular forms but pedantry has no place here. As some of my ex pupils would say, “Get a life man. You should get out a bit more.”

How I hate those really hard plastic blister packs too. So difficult to cut.

The packaging for the drug Lansaparole or Omeprazole was changed not too long ago from a push through blister pack to a peel back blister pack. The consequence was that my blind FIL had strange miniscule multi-coloured balls rolling all over the dining room table. I found them (could see them) and tried to work out what they were. He meanwhile was asking why he was suddenly having so much trouble getting the capsule out of the pack.

Nurses walk around with scissors to open mayonnaise/sald cream packets at mealtimes for patients if the patients are lucky. They also have to open sandwich packets and other closed plastic pots of food for patients – fruit salad, salad, grated cheese/flaked tuna and yoghurt. Unfortunately instructions on how to open small packets have to be (if there are any) in really small print so are difficult to see.

Lansoprazole and Omeprazole are made by various companies and you are likely to get whichever brand the pharmacy can buy most cheaply at the time. Have a word with your pharmacy and they may be able to help or at least identify a manufacturer that uses blister packs with foil backs, which are easy to use.

Your GP can specify a particular brand, though your pharmacy may have to order a pack specially.

Great idea. Thank you … and thank you for the spelling. : )

My pet hates:
1. Cling film sealed boxes or CD’s. Impossible to open without some sharp implement.
2. Pull tops on drink cartons which when used either result in half the contents over clothes rather than in your stomach, or which break rendering the contents inaccessible.
3. Pressed plastic packaging which is often used to seal electronic gadgets. Tough to open even with scissors and leaving sharp edges that can cut.

Keith says:
16 August 2012

Oh dear Skeptictan – perhaps you shouldn’t be allowing your pet to go anywhere near these dangerous items. Or maybe you should consider getting a pet with opposable thumbs.

Very good, but I hope you are not going to comment about what Warlock has written (below) about seals on milk bottles.

Seals on plastic milk bottles. Sainsbury’s use a foil seal with a small tab: this tab often becomes trapped by the cap and is ripped off when the cap is removed, leaving the tab stuck to the inside of the cap, and the difficulty of removing the rest of the seal without resorting to a knife or scissors. Tesco and Co-op use a seal with a semi-circular plastic flap full width across the seal, which is more robust and much easier to remove. I wrote to Sainsbury’s and to Waitrose about this a few months ago. I don’t know whether this may have influenced the decision by Waitrose to change from the foil seal to the ‘Tesco’ type a few weeks later. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps they do listen?

Barbara D says:
23 August 2013

I don’t often buy CDs. The last one I bought, I couldn’t open so I put it away until another time. Later I tried again and still couldn’t manage to take off the thin plastic film using my hands, finger nails or teeth. I put it away again. About three weeks later my husband struggled and managed using a sharp object.

Just try opening a Connon replacement printer ink cartridge? Impossible without a very sharp tool.

At last someone has picked up on this issue – I’m glad it’s Which?

I’m only in my 60s, but I have often wondered how older people manage packaging that I struggle to open, and why companies who use almost-impossible-to-open packaging don’t “road-test” their products before putting them on the market. To be fair, tin cans have been with us for years, as have can openers – I’m more bothered by plastic and paper wrapping, particularly the shrink-wrapped variety, and the “peel-off” plastic that doesn’t show you where to peel (or hasn’t got anywhere to peel). Kitchen scissors do deal with most offenders, but how many of us carry scissors with us everywhere we go?