The Ultimate Guide To Freezer Labels

The Ultimate Guide To Freezer Labels

Buying the wrong labels for your cold storage facility can have consequences far greater than the cost of the labels.  Using the wrong freezer labels can lead to a variety of problems, both big and small, for your warehouse.  

For example:

A common problem is that the label simply fell off of your package.  This could result in having to reapply the label, missing a shipment deadline, losing a sales opportunity, or miscounting internal inventory.

A more extreme example:

If you are in the food logistics business, the consequences of a lost label could be much more dire.  When your perishable inventory turns into spoiled or tainted food, the stakes are much greater.

Best case scenario:  Your warehouse manager catches the mistake before anything becomes contaminated.

Worst case scenario: Your food becomes contaminated, but still finds it’s way to customers…  and then that food is consumed, resulting in sick customers… and the inevitable, dreaded product recall. Your brand, as well as your bottom line, will take a major hit.

Cold supply chain warehouses can’t take that risk.  While labels are only a small part of the cold supply chain equation, they are an important one.  For that reason, you must be absolutely sure that you are using the right label for your situation.

We will help you identify which adhesive, facestock, and ultimately label is the perfect fit for you.

1.  Who Uses Freezer Labels?

While that might be a bit of a silly question, as you are reading an article about freezer labels, it is still one worth asking.  Depending upon your situation, an all-temperature adhesive grade label might be just fine for you.

If you are applying your labels in a dry, room-temperature environment and your labels are never exposed to anything below 5°F, then you likely don’t need a freezer grade label.  In that case, the standard “all-temperature” label is appropriate.  This standard-grade hot melt adhesive is a good fit for applications on surfaces such as corrugated cardboard, plastic totes, plywood, and shrink-wrap.  Labels with this adhesive are best applied in a dry, room-temperature environment.  If temperatures dip below zero, the probability of your label adhering drops significantly.

However, if your labels are going to be applied in or exposed to subzero temperatures at any point in your supply chain, then you will need to consider freezer grade labels.

Some typical users of freezer-grade labels are:

Perishable Product Distributors

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Warehouses With Blast Freezers

Industrial Kitchens

Image courtesy of RobynsWorld. Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

Packaging Foods & Beverages

Image courtesy of evelynlo. Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

Cold Storage & Distribution

Image courtesy of 27707. Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

Pharmaceutical R&D

Image courtesy of Brett_Hondow. Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

2. When & Where Will Your Labels Be Applied?

Determining in advance when and where you will be applying your label is the first step to ensuring your label doesn’t end up on the freezer floor.  

In a perfect world, you would apply your label at room temperature.  This gives your label the best possible tack for its initial bond to your package.  Then, you would give the label some time for permanent adhesion prior to putting it into a freezer.  

However, many cold storage warehouses just can’t operate in this fashion.  Understandably, these individuals need to pay close attention to choosing the right adhesive.

One reason why some adhesives only work for certain situations is due to the “wet out” time.  Essentially, wetting out is the time that it takes the adhesive to form its permanent bond with your substrate (the substrate is simply the material that your label is applied to).

Here is an example where miscalculating your wetting out time could be a big mistake.

You are on the factory floor and are about to apply a label to a box that is at room temperature.  The label sticks due to its initial tack and you think that everything is good to go.  Next, you take that box with its freshly applied label and move it into the blast freezer for storage.  A few hours later, you come back into the freezer and find your freshly applied labels laying on the warehouse floor.

So what went wrong?

The label this individual chose must have had an adhesive with a long wetting out time.

So, while this person thought the labels were permanently adhered, the sudden change in temperature didn’t give the label the appropriate time to wet out on the substrate.  Additionally, the label was likely exposed to a blower when it was moved into the freezer.   Ultimately, the combination of a long wetting out time, change in temperature, and exposure to a blower resulted in the label falling off of the substrate.

Listed below are some common freezer labeling scenarios  and the recommended adhesives for each situation.  Again, the reason for these recommendations is based on which adhesive will allow your label to adhere to your substrate.

  • You are inside of a freezer and are applying a label to a frozen substrate

    • Appropriate Adhesives: Hot Melt, Acrylic Solvent, Acrylic Emulsion
  • You are inside of a freezer and are applying a label to a non-frozen substrate

    • Appropriate Adhesives: Hot Melt, Acrylic Solvent, Acrylic Emulsion
  • You are outside of a freezer and are applying a label to a substrate and waiting (at least 30 minutes) before putting it into a blast freezer

    • Appropriate Adhesives: Hot Melt, Emulsion, Solvent
  • You are outside of a freezer and are applying a label to a substrate and are immediately putting it into a blast freezer

    • Appropriate Adhesives: Hot Melt

If you do find yourself in one of the scenarios listed above, then you will absolutely need to get a freezer grade label.  Regardless of when in the production process you will be applying your label, you will want to be certain to do it the right way.  One thing to make sure is that you do purchase the right material and type of freezer grade label.  We offer both polypropylene freezer and paper freezer-grade labels with our freezer adhesive.  In addition to two different materials, you also need to make sure you buy the right type: either direct thermal freezer adhesive or thermal transfer freezer-grade labels.   If you are unsure, check out our guide on – how to apply labels in freezer environments.

3.  Which Adhesive Is Right For Your Environment & Substrate?

While application and service temperature are critical for determining the right adhesive,  evaluating the surface that the label is going to be applied to is equally important.   

One important question is whether or not your label is going to be exposed to moisture or frost.  Some freezer grade labels are formulated to withstand moisture and frost, while others are not.  

Listed below is a breakdown of three popular freezer adhesives.

Hot Melt – Freezer Grade Adhesive

Not all hot melt adhesives are created equally.  Through a specifically crafted formula, a special hot melt adhesive for cold storage is actually the most popular freezer grade adhesive.  This hot melt adhesive is designed to resist subzero temperatures and freezing, while still being economically priced.  Additionally, a hot melt adhesive can be applied to already frozen surfaces.  The hot melt adhesive is your best choice when dealing with recycled corrugate as your substrate.  

  • Tack: Moderate to High

  • “Wet Out” Time: Almost Instantaneous

  • Cohesion strength: Good

Emulsion Acrylic Adhesive

Emulsion acrylic adhesive is popular in warehouses as it is great at adhering to corrugated services.  For the most part, emulsion acrylic has good initial tack and a broad service temperature.  While it can be used in all subzero temperatures, it does perform best when applied  at room temperature.  The emulsion acrylic is the typical all-temp adhesive.  One other benefit of the emulsion acrylic is that is can be repositionable if the label is removed quickly.

  • Tack: Good

  • “Wet Out” Time: Up to 30 Minutes

  • Cohesion strength: Fair

Solvent Acrylic Adhesive

Solvent Acrylic is a permanent adhesive that is specially formulated for plastic and glass facestocks that are exposed to toxic environments. While this adhesive is excellent and high-end, it is not normally used in freezing situations. This particular adhesive can withstand chemical exposure, autoclaving, and even gamma radiation.  One important consideration is that if you choose a solvent acrylic adhesive, is that you will need to pair it with a synthetic label stock.

  • Tack: Low

  • “Wet Out” Time: Up to 30 Minutes

  • Cohesion strength: Good

4.  What Temperature Does Your Label Need to Withstand?

The next question you need to ask to determine which freezer label is appropriate for your situation is all about temperature.

Having a precise understanding of the temperature range that your labels will be exposed to is  another important step to choosing the right label.  Most “all-temperature” labels will do an adequate job at sticking at just below freezing temperatures.  However, what really distinguishes freezer grade labels is their ability to adhere in truly low temperatures.  

Your label needs to have a high degree of tack and then the right adhesive to stay permanently fixed to its application.

Understanding both your minimum application temperature and service temperature range will dictate which adhesive will properly tack and adhere.

Here is a quick definition of minimum application temperature and service temperature range.

  • Minimum Application Temperature (MAT): Lowest temperature at which the adhesive will function at the time of labeling.

  • Service Temperature Range (STR): Temperature range over which the adhesive will function while the label is in-use, after the label has been applied and allowed to build to ultimate adhesion.

It is important to know your temperatures and environments to ensure you choose the right label. Ensuring that your label sticks and stays adhered is only half the battle.  You also need to be sure that the label & ink you choose doesn’t break or crack due to the subzero temperatures.   Listed below are four types of label adhesives and their temperature ranges.  

5.  What Facestock Is Best For You?

Another important question is determining the label facestock in which the information is printed on.  

Choosing the right stock depends on the shape and the material of the item that needs to be labeled.  An additional layer of complexity that arises in freezer labeling is whether or not you are dealing in “dry” or “wet” conditions.  

For dry conditions/environments, your typical paper stock will be sufficient.  A paper stock label is the most common due to its low cost and ability to be cut into any desired shape.

First, you could consider a polypropylene facestock.  Utilizing a polypropylene facestock will give your label a higher degree of resistance to moisture and decay.

If you need something even more durable than polypropylene, a vinyl substrate will do the job.  This label better withstands chemicals, moisture, and tearing.  In summary:

  • Paper

    • Ideal for “dry” conditions
    • Most common & lowest cost
    • Can be cut into any shape
  • Polyester

    • Good for “wet” conditions
    • Synthetic material
    • More expensive than paper
  • Vinyl

    • Most durable
    • Synthetic material
    • Most expensive

Still Not Sure?

In closing, if you still are not absolutely sure which freezer label is right for you, then ask the experts! Our team of label specialists would be more than happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have.  Additionally, we would be more than happy to send you a sample roll to test in your environment.  Don’t hesitate to ask!