The leader of a packaging organization fires back at claims that reusable plastic containers used to transport produce are unsanitary.
This website recently reported on research that seemingly indicates the majority of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) employed in shipping fresh fruit and vegetables are unsanitary. Here, Jerry Welcome, president of the Reusable Packaging Association, responds with a counterpoint to the research.
On behalf of the Reusable Packaging Association and its RPC member companies, I would like to address your recent article titled “Reusable produce containers often contaminated." I believe a careful reading of the study cited in your article doesn’t justify the reported conclusion.
High cleaning standards
For the record, the RPC industry does have rigorous cleaning and testing protocols. The tests conducted daily by RPC suppliers exceed accepted standards and have proven to be highly effective. I know of no evidence from either U.S. or Canadian food safety regulators to support any documented food safety issue with the use of RPC’s in the food supply chain.
In fact, Dr. Keith Warriner, director of the Food Safety and Quality Program at the University of Guelph, states in his own findings reported in the study summary, ”From the results it can be concluded that although there was no evidence of a food safety issue, it is recommended that the decontamination method of RPC’s be reviewed to prevent carriage and transfer of human pathogens.”
Food safety record
I think it is critically important for everyone to remain focused on the root causes of food safety issues in the supply chain. The reusable industry has an enviable food safety record and will continue to maintain a commitment to providing a safe and reliable means for shipping produce from farm to retailer.
It is a recommendation of the researcher that decontamination methods be reviewed. In fact, ongoing review and improvement efforts are part of RPC providers’ regular practices, as they should be for all companies in the fresh produce supply chain.
While the RPA does not establish standards for our members’ processes, we are aware that each of our member companies supplying RPCs for fresh produce comply with all established regulatory food safety protocols, are inspected by third-party certification bodies, and conduct daily product and environmental microbiology testing identical to that which our customers, the ready-to-eat food industry, perform.
Each RPC supplier conducts their own food safety tests as a regular part of their cleaning operations, so arbitrary studies are not necessary.
Further, I should also point out that tests used in the study are considered indicator tests for pathogens. ATP [adenosine triphosphate] does not test microorganisms, only the potential for them. ATP and APC [aerobic plate count] testing measures all possible microorganisms, the majority of which are not hazardous.
If there were dangerous microorganisms present, the study researcher would not have concluded that there was no evidence of a food safety issue. In the discussion section of the study the researcher noted yet again, “...no E. coli was recovered in any samples tested.”
The big picture
In conclusion, I think it is important that you look at this study in its totality. One aspect of the study might address concerns about sanitary conditions found in some of the containers studied in the field, but the most important conclusion cited was there are no food safety issues found on RPCs.
All those involved in the produce supply chain—from container suppliers, farmers, shippers and retailers—have an important role in maintaining a safe produce supply chain. We should all remain diligent in our commitments to food safety and to using studies such as this to continue this important dialogue on finding ways to improve our food supply in the future.