The Food Safety News recently reported on new research, sponsored by the corrugated cardboard industry, suggesting that ” typical cleaning doesn’t actually sanitize the reusable plastic containers (RPCs) used to transport fruits, vegetables, poultry and other foods.”
The research specifically measured the count of Salmonella cells remaining on RPC surfaces subsequent to the washing process. This result by Steven Ricke, director of the University of Arkansas Center for Food Safety, and his team, follows research earlier this year, which found that using typical cleaning and sanitization practices, bacterial biofilms could still survive on surface materials of RPCs.
Tim Debus, president of the Reusable Packaging Association, offered a rebuttal in a subsequent article, Science, History and Real-World Use Support Safety of Reusable Packaging. Some of the key points from the Debus article include:
- Reusable packaging has been used successfully for much of human history
- In current times, the popularity of reusable packaging continues to grow, delivering benefits in terms of better product protection, reduced environmental impacts, lower overall costs, and other benefits.
- There has never been an identified or detected risk to food safety because of the use of reusables.
- The reusables industry follows rigorous washing and testing procedures, in sophisticated washing facilities that meet or exceed government requirements. Also, the industry has developed voluntary guidelines for container sanitation in cooperation with a range of key industry stakeholders. As Debus notes: The guidelines were developed in collaboration with growers, retailers, and leading industry food safety experts, and they follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCPs), which are the cornerstone of all modern food safety systems.
- Food safety professionals representing growers and retailers are also actively involved in monitoring food products utilizing reusable packaging, and believe in their safety.
- The laboratory results do not reflect the reality of actual wash operations, which involve not only the use of specific cleaning and sanitizing agents, but also a sequence of operations involving water pressure, detergents, heat and timing that effectively produce sanitized containers. Debus writes that: According to a Food Safety Magazine article entitled, “Biofilms: Forming a Defense Strategy for the Food Plant,” “Removal of biofilms is achieved by a combination of four factors: 1) formulations and concentrations of cleaning and sanitizing agents; 2) exposure time; 3) temperature; and 4) mechanical activity.”
Debus concludes that it is inaccurate to make generalizations about the commercial cleaning process based on incomplete research.
Ultimately, Debus emphasizes that attempts to raise public food safety fears with adequate cause is really a lose-lose situation for everyone in the food industry, and that the RPA stands ready to support interested parties in ensuring that the best and most representative science is performed with respect to transport packaging.