Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Ouch! Who’s the Genius That Invented Blister Packs? Jan21

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Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Ouch! Who’s the Genius That Invented Blister Packs?

By now the holidays are winding down and we’re all still going through the mountain of gifts and cards that we’ve received.  This year, my aunt and uncle gave me a mini-mag light, and it came in one of those impossible to open plastic casings known as a blister pack.  I took the scissors to it and tried to pry it open, when slice – I cut my finger on the sharp end.  So, what’s the right way to pop that sucker open and who’s responsible for this American invention?

Take a brisk walk around your local department store and you’ll come across dozens of items enclosed like prisoners in tough plastic casing.  CD’s, remote controls, toothbrushes, razors, ink pens, action figures, pills; the list goes on and on.  Yet, unlike a Ziploc bag, there is no tab or perforation to aid in opening.

I love getting gifts under the tree, but I hate the frustration of trying to pry open these packs.  Forget about using your fingers or trying to tear it open with your teeth.   You’ve got to reach for the old trusty scissors.  But, one move in the wrong direction and you can either cut your finger, or like me slice it with the sharp edge in the plastic you just created.

The main purpose of the plastic blister packs is to keep your item safe from the warehouse, to store shelf, to your home.  The plastic acts as a barrier to keep the air, water, and other elements away from the contents inside.  By forming a proper seal, the contents can be stored safely for years.

There are actually three types of packs that are manufactured for shipping goods:

  1. For consumer goods that also contains a cardboard insert where the product information such as the name, instructions, and the bar code is displayed.
  2. For dispensing medications by pressing on the back causing the tablet to be released.
  3. Another for medication that has the patient peel back the cardboard back cover to gain access.

For me, the packs for dispensing medications are usually easy to use.  The last thing I need is to rack my brain when I have a major headache or fever trying to open that aspirin.  I get that enough sometimes with those pill bottles that don’t open when you press and turn, but that’s for another blogumn.

The packs that I’m talking about are the ones that enclose the entire product that feature the cardboard insert.  By placing all the information on the insert, a consumer can check out the product, get all the information, and get a complete view of the item in the store without having to rip open a box to look inside.  It’s easy shipping for the manufacturer and easy for the store to display.  That’s why they are so popular – to them.

But, enough’s enough.  I’m tired of fighting with these things, thinking that I’m the ultimate idiot because they take forever to open.  There’s got to be a better way to do this…

According to a recent article published in the American Medical News, doctors report thousands of injuries each year trying to open these packs.

David Ross is an emergency physician at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, CO and in an article for the American Medical News, he said:

“I’ve worked in the emergency department on Christmas day for six out of the last ten years. We certainly see lacerations. That’s the most common thing. But we also see punctures.”

He concluded by saying:  “That clamshell packaging is absolutely diabolical.”

Now, companies such as, Sony, Best Buy, and Microsoft are taking steps to remove the plastic packaging.  Instead, Amazon is shipping the products in easy to open cardboard boxes and Sony is exploring using an adhesive that allows the consumer to easily pry it open with a loud Velcro sound to deter thieves.  Last year, Sony produced a comical video at a marketing meeting to demonstrate the frustrations of trying to open these packs.

The easiest way I’ve ever found to open these is to start by cutting through the hole at the top for hanging the product on the shelf; then carefully slicing down the front over the item to free it.  I try to keep the scissors inside the plastic at all times in case it drops or slips.  It usually works, but this time not so much.

If you’ve got an easier way, I’d love to hear about it.  One suggestion I read involves using a household can opener, but I couldn’t make that work.  It only tore the top off, I still had to slice the front.  I did an exhaustive internet search, but haven’t found any official comments from a company on the best way to open these.

What makes the plastic so strong that it can slice?  These packs are manufactured in two ways.

Thermoforming, is a plastic sheet unwound from a reel and guided through the blister machine where an upper and lower plate are heated, making the plastic melt into a mold that can be closed by machine or by hand once the product is placed inside.

Cold forming, is an aluminum based film that is pressed into a mold by a stamp.  Cold forming provides a better seal to keep out air, cold, and water giving a longer expiration date.  However, it is slower to process and cannot be made as see through as packs made through thermoforming.

So, what’s the best way?  It looks like there is no best way.  Carefully would be the best answer.  If you’ve got a secret for opening these up, please share it with us all!

THE 411

What: Plastic Blister Packs

Use: Designed to keep products safe during shipping and presentable on store shelves.

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: There’s got to be a better way to sell items.  I recommend that companies change to using cardboard boxes that can be recycled.  Not only are they easier on the environment, but it will cut down on the use of petroleum products used in their manufacturing.

If they insist on using plastic, I agree with the direction Sony is taking by creating an adhesive that will allow us to pry it open.  Please, no more sharp edges or slips of the scissors that will have us running to medicine cabinet or worse – to the emergency room!