Operating from 210 locations worldwide and providing a pool of over 170 million RPCs (reusable plastic containers), IFCO recently opened its fifth U.S. service center for RPCs in the U.S. This move supports the continued expansion of RPC use by leading grocery retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Walmart, Kroger, HEB, Loblaws and Safeway. IFCO’s other service centers as of the summer of 2012 are located in San Antonio, Texas; Rancho Cucamonga, California; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chicago, Illinois.
Upon completing a review of its RPC system in the latter half of 2011, IFCO determined that the ideal location for a new service center to meet its growing market share in the Pacific Northwest would be in Portland, Oregon. The facility was commissioned in November 2011, and opening in mid-January 2012. The 85,000 square foot facility washes over 40,000 RPCs per day, and ships and receives approximately 25-40 truckloads of RPCs daily for IFCO’s grocery retail partners and grower shipper customers. To meet the demand in the Northwest, IFCO’s Portland service center is expected to employ over 100 employees.
Currently processing about 1 million RPCs monthly, the plant can handle up to 15 million RPCs annually with its first production line. It has room to install two additional lines which would allow it to triple capacity in the future, according to Mark White, Director of Plant Operations North America for IFCO.
All IFCO service centers follow strict food safety and quality assurance protocols based on HACCP requirements, and employ a variety of measures to reduce environmental impact. Case in point, IFCO service centers are all FDA approved and certified by American Institute of Baking (AIB). IFCO maintains a “superior” rating from AIB at all of its North American locations. Its food safety monitoring program involves outside auditing from AIB, as well as very strict controls internally with regard to processes and monitoring.
Twice per shift, swab test sampling is undertaken. With an established industry threshold level of 250 RLUs (Relative Light Units), sampling results in readings well within the acceptable range of 50 to 150 RLUs.
With respect to the washing process, collapsed crates are manually sorted and then fed into the automated washing system, involving a series of operations. After rinsing, detergents are introduced to aid in the release of any dirt particles, and then followed by the introduction of non-harmful organic sanitizing agents which evaporate during the drying process.
In the process, IFCO currently captures for reuse approximately one-third of the water it uses, and is looking to increase that percentage to 50 percent. The move not only makes sense environmentally, but economically as well in terms of being able to use the re-filtered sanitizing agents, White noted. Another recent innovation has helped both environmentally as well as on the bottom line, a centrifugal drying technology that uses much less energy than the previous air tunnel approach. It provides much more effective drying in the process, as well as much more pleasant working conditions, with the elimination of noise and humidity.
Also key to food safety control is the handling of RPCs within the service center, with strict controls in place to eliminate the possibility of post-sanitization contamination. Washed containers are immediately wrapped and kept segregated from unwashed incoming units.
For more information on IFCO and RPCs, visit IFCO`s website at www.rpcresource.com.