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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48 million Americans are stricken with food borne illness every year. For instance, there were E. coli outbreaks in both the U.S. and Europe in 2012 involving fresh produce. In addition, June of 2012 saw a Listeria recall involving bagged salads in six states: Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Handling in the field has been suspected in these cases, but shipping platforms have come under scrutiny as well. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted in January 2011, is a positive step toward addressing the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, and the law details a number of guidelines – particularly in the areas of product tracking and preventive standards – that companies can follow in order to avoid contamination via food borne pathogens.
The movement to ensure greater food safety has led to evaluation of all the steps from field to table, including shipping platforms. For decades, wood pallets have been the standard of shipping for almost all manufactured products of any type. It has only been within the past several years that a viable alternative, the plastic pallet, has become available.
Plastic pallets offer a number of advantages. They typically are lighter than their wood counterparts, making them easier to handle and also adding less weight to shipments, thereby saving fuel costs. They are also more durable and are 100% recyclable. Most importantly, plastic pallets are safer and more hygienic for a variety of reasons:
- They are immune to insect contamination; therefore pests cannot penetrate the plastic and infest fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and fish.
- They do not absorb pathogens or harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
- They do not require fumigation or heat treatment, which also make wood pallets more susceptible to the presence of mold and other toxins.
- They can be easily sanitized by washing before re-use.
- They do not have loose or protruding rusty nails or splinters, which can puncture and contaminate packaged foods. Wood pallets typically have 150 nails in each pallet.
- They have embedded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which enable organizations to immediately identify contaminated shipments, limit the spread of food-borne illness and facilitate product safety recalls.