The University of Guelph study we highlighted in an earlier blog (Loblaw and IFCO need to clean up their act) is causing quite a few ripples in food safety, industry, and government circles throughout North America and Europe. Dr. Keith Warriner’s study claimed that using reusable plastic crates to ship food in Canada was a “recipe for disaster,” citing potential risks of microbiological contamination and the transfer of human pathogens such as salmonella, norovirus and cyclospora to fruit and vegetables.
The plastics industry itself is no stranger to the health risks of re-usables, certainly as it impacts the use (and abuse) of reusable carry-out bags. It cites US and Canadian studies that bacterial loadings increase with repeated use of the same container and that reusable bags “can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other coliforms.”
Re-usable crates are somewhat different to re-usable bags in that consumers are less likely to come into direct contact with them (unless they steal them!). But clearly, based on the Warriner report, more extensive and more regular testing of the conditions under which these crates are being used is required. They should, at the very least, meet the same health and safety standards that their commercial competitor, the corrugated box, meets. And those standards are being raised all the time as consumer concerns about the safety of the food we all eat, grows.
PPEC-member Norampac has just received Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 certification for its St. Mary’s, Ontario corrugated plant. That’s quite a step up from the AIB certification that many companies (including crate rental operator IFCO) use. One of the problems with AIB certification is that companies themselves actually choose the date they will be inspected (!) and can spruce up the plant accordingly.
Board Converting News reports the case of a plant in Georgia that was tracked down by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control as the source of an outbreak of salmonella in 2008 and 2009. This was after nine people had died and 621 people had been sickened by food poisoning! The plant had a “superior” rating from AIB International. But here’s the clincher. After inadequate cleanliness at the plant was confirmed, the AIB president told the New York Times that the superior rating “would mean that we didn’t see (filth) on the day we were there. What goes on the rest of the time, we don’t know.”
Let’s get our act together, folks!
 Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags, and A Microbiological Study of Reusable bags and First or Single Use Plastic Bags, both available from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
SQF is a recognised scheme under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).