The use of wooden or plastic pallets when considering the general health and safety issues at food practices is one of the most important decisions for managements, according to plastic pallets distributor Premier Pallets.
The balancing act of juggling costs, “green conscience” regarding recyclability of company waste, and reputational damage is most obvious when there is a recall of products, owing to the wrong choice of pallets.
Health and safety issues, such as the possible outbreak of listeria at a food premise, owing to the wrong choice of pallet, illustrate most gravely the damage that a company can face from the resultant deaths and sickness, owing to the spread of pathogens in the workplace.
Wooden pallets are unique in certain ways namely, strength on price and that they can be repaired, but new scientific data from independent tests in the US reveal more about the hidden dangers of wood pallets and the threat they pose to the foods people eat and the medications they rely on every day.
Premier Pallets cites information from the Reliable Plant website: “In the fifth in a series of independent tests conducted in cities from Portland, Maine, to New Orleans, wood shipping pallets that transport our food were discovered carrying bacteria and life-threatening pathogens that spread easily and endanger our nation’s food supply. The latest round of testing comes from the New Orleans area, where 43% of wood pallets tested at an independent scientific laboratory came back positive for E.coli, listeria and/or salmonella, which sicken tens of thousands of Americans every year. One wood pallet tested positive for all three food-poisoning bacteria. The results are consistent with similar findings by USDA and FDA.”
“Any porous surface, like the rough-sawn wood used to make wood pallets, has the potential to harbour many types of bacteria – including food pathogens,” said independent microbiologist John J Pascale, who, as lab director for ESS Laboratory of Bedford, Virginia, conducted tests on certain wood pallets.
“Wood pallets used indiscriminately around different types of food have an even greater chance for the possibility of cross-contamination of food products,” Pascale added.
According to sustainable packaging, pallets and supply chain freelance writer, commentator and consultant Rick Leblanc, the problem of mould on wooden pallets must be included when prevention strategies are discussed because, given the growing importance of food safety and the relationship with pallets, mould found on pallets has faced increased scrutiny.
“In industries such as pharmaceuticals and food, the demand for mould-free wood pallets and packaging has intensified in 2018,” said Leblanc.
Pallet producer Millwood unit load technology manager Ralph Rupert noted that mould continued to be one of the leading technical issues for wood, with mould spores found everywhere in the environment.
“Mould can be a health issue, and it can be a visual issue,” he said. “It can only grow when there is free water in the cells of the wood.”
The key to preventing mould, according to Rupert, is to keep the moisture content of wood below the fibre saturation point, in the 20% to 25% moisture content range or lower. This obviously involves keeping pallets dry and preventing exposure to rain, humidity and other sources of moisture. Inside storage is recommended.
While discussion is centred on eliminating free water that can result in mould growth, chemical treatments take different approaches, according to Rupert. One leading product in the US, “X-Mold”, works on the encapsulation aspect. It creates a barrier that prevents oxygen from being available for mould formation. Other chemical treatments are copper formulations or others that act as mouldicides, inhibiting mould growth. As environmental conditions vary, Premier Pallets indicates that it is best to discuss applications with a provider, and perform testing.
Depending on the situation, the effectiveness of chemical applications can range from a few weeks to as much as 90 days.