Materials handling: Bare-knuckle brawling in the pallet industry
August 12, 2009
IGPS calls on the FDA to investigate the safety of wooden pallets. The NWPCA wants the Feds to look into the safety of plastic pallets. Get ready to rumble.
The Ultimate Fight Championship is supposed to be, well, the ultimate when it comes to two guys beating their brains in. But for sheer no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle brawling, I say they got nothin’ on the brouhaha a brewin’ in the pallet industry.
In this corner, we’ve got iGPS, the scrappy plastic pallet pool upstart, throwing haymakers at the wooden pallet pool king CHEP. iGPS wants the FDA to investigate whether wooden pallets pose a risk to America’s food supply. Wood pallets, iGPS claims, are a breeding ground for E. coli and salmonella. Engineered wooden pallets, like those used in the CHEP pallet pool, include components that contain urea formaldehyde, a carcinogen that could be released into the air in a storage container and cause harm to workers. “The use of wood pallets to carry our food supply is increasingly difficult to justify, especially when it is so vulnerable to contamination,” says iGPS President Bob Moore. “Wood pallets are so unhygienic that the FDA has explicitly recommended that they not be used in connection with food preparation – but more analysis is needed.”
And, in this corner, we’ve got the NWPCA, the experienced heavy weight representing the wood pallet industry, challenging the upstart to bring it on. They not only welcome the investigation, they are willing to send the FDA studies conducted by the European food industry to meet the European Commission (EC) Hygiene Directive introduced in 2000. Example: The German Institute for Food Technology found “the overall bacterial count on commercial wooden pallets made from different types of wood was on average 15% lower than on plastic pallets.” Meanwhile, the NWPCA would like to see a safety test for deca-bromine, the chemical fire retardant used in some plastic pallets, like those used in the iGPS pallet pool. Deca-bromine is – you guessed it – a carcinogen. “After pallets are roughed up in the normal wear-and-tear of the material handling and warehouse system, those chemicals are bound to leach into the products they carry,” says NWPCA President Bruce Scholnick. “The FDA needs to test the older plastic pallets to see how much deca dust is getting onto our food.”
Can anyone say: Let’s get ready to R-U-M-B-L-E?
In the interest of fairness, below are the two press releases in their entirety, posted in the order they were received yesterday by Modern Materials Handling. As Fox News, another bare-knuckle brawler, might say: We report, you decide.
iGPS Calls for FDA Investigation of Wood Pallets and Risks to Food Safety
America’s food supply at risk from bacteria and formaldehyde-laden pallets
Orlando, FL, Aug. 11, 2009 – iGPS Company today called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to launch a comprehensive investigation of wood pallets and the risks they may pose to the nation’s food supply.
“Wood pallets may present a serious risk to America’s food supply. The over one billion wood pallets in circulation in the U.S. are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and carry other undesirable substances that can cross-contaminate food,” said Bob Moore, Chairman and CEO, iGPS. “Wood is inherently porous and can easily absorb bacteria and fluids, creating a risk for food products where Listeria, E. coli and salmonella are a concern.”
“What’s worse is that wood pallets made with “engineered wood” components contain urea formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – which may come into contact with food under a variety of scenarios when it is stored and shipped on wooden pallets,” Moore continued. “Formaldehyde is also released into the air when it off-gases from pallets in storage and transportation compartments, posing a risk to the health of workers and consumers.”
Wood pallets pose other dangerous risks to food safety, as outlined by Moore in a letter to the FDA’s Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Michael R. Taylor, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner. Wood pallets are susceptible to insect infestation and require heat treatment or fumigation before they can be moved cross-border. Fumigation is often performed with methyl bromide, a highly toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. Rusty nails that can penetrate food packaging are also a risk.
“The use of wood pallets to carry our food supply is increasingly difficult to justify, especially when it is so vulnerable to contamination,” said Moore. “Wood pallets are so unhygienic that the FDA has explicitly recommended that they not be used in connection with food preparation – but more analysis is needed.”
“We call upon the FDA to launch a full investigation into the use of wood pallets in connection with the storage and shipment of our country’s food. The health and safety of the American public dictates nothing less.”
iGPS operates the world’s first pallet rental service providing shippers and receivers with all-plastic pallets with embedded RFID tags. iGPS’ state-of-the-art pallets are 30 percent lighter than wood, which saves on transport costs and helps reduce green house gases. Its pallets are also more hygienic, easier to handle and, because they eliminate protruding nails and splinters, reduce workplace injuries and damaged equipment. Embedded RFID tags enable shippers and receivers to track and trace shipments in real time. And iGPS pallets are 100% recyclable. Launched in March 2006, the company is led by pallet and supply chain veterans with decades of experience. iGPS (www.igps.net) is headquartered in Orlando, FL.
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Wood Pallet Industry Supports FDA Review
Alexandria, VA – The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) supports the suggestion by the Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) plastic pallet company that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test pallets for food safety. To aid this process, NWPCA is submitting several studies already conducted by the European food industry to meet the European Commission (EC) Hygiene Directive introduced in 2000.
“The goal of the European Commission directive was to make a single hygiene policy effective from the farm to the table,” said NWPCA President Bruce Scholnick. “The European food industry conducted a number of field and laboratory tests on wood and plastic pallets and found wood to be equal to, and in some cases superior to, plastic. Apparently plastic is made up of minuscule honeycomb patterns that hold onto bacteria in a way that wood does not.”
The German Institute for Food Technology carried out field tests comparing wood and plastic pallets used in the meat, dairy, vegetable and bakery sectors. They found “the overall bacterial count on commercial wooden pallets made from different types of wood was on average 15% lower than on plastic pallets.”
A Nordic food industry study conducted field tests on the survival of bacteria commonly found in the meat industry. That study was compared against those in German laboratory tests. The overall conclusions were the same – “bacteria didn’t survive within the wood.”
The Nordic project also did laboratory testing on cleaning wood and plastic pallets after contamination with normal detergent without antibacterial additives. The conclusion of that testing was that “bacterial survival is lowest on wood.” A Swiss study on the hygienic aspects of wood cutting boards compared with polyethylene (PE) boards similarly demonstrated that “wood is just as easy to clean and is an acceptable hygienic material.”
“We are sharing these food industry studies with the appropriate FDA administrators and are encouraging them to replicate them,” said Bruce Scholnick. “We are also asking that they include a safety test for deca-bromine chemical fire retardant which is infused in the iGPS plastic pallets. In fact, according to the company’s own life cycle analysis, there is 3.4 lbs of Deca in each iGPS pallet.”
“After pallets are roughed up in the normal wear-and-tear of the material handling and warehouse system, those chemicals are bound to leach into the products they carry,” continued Scholnick. “The FDA needs to test the older plastic pallets to see how much deca dust is getting onto our food.”
Last June, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) urged the FDA to halt the use of plastic pallets containing decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca) for transporting food products. “Deca is a neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen that persists in the environment and accumulates in human tissue,” Richard Wiles, EWG Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications said in his letter to the agency. “Millions of plastic pallets, each containing 3.4 pounds of Deca (according to industry estimates) are currently in use. These contaminated pallets could introduce millions of pounds of toxic fire retardant into the environment each year.”
August 3, Wiles followed up with a letter to the country’s largest grocery stores and supermarkets saying “We are writing to ask that you determine whether or not you or your suppliers are currently using plastic pallets, and if so, we urge you to immediately stop the use of these pallets by you or your suppliers until proper FDA approvals are received.”
The FDA itself has weighed in on the use of plastic pallets containing Deca for hydrocooling fruits and vegetables. In an April 29, 2009 letter by Dr. Elizabeth Sánchez of the FDA’S Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said that Deca is “not authorized” as a component of plastic pallets used in hydrocooling produce. She said that FDA required pre-market approval for the chemical “to be used in contact with food.”
The states of Maine, Washington, and most recently Oregon have passed legislation banning the use of Deca for household goods. Washington State, in consultation with the Washington State Department of Health developed the Final PBDE Chemical Action Plan that says: “The United States Congress or Washington State Legislature should phase-out the manufacture, distribution and sale of new products containing Deca-BDE provided that safer, effective and affordable alternatives are found or upon the emergence of additional evidence of Deca-BDE harm.” That report can be found on the Federal EPA Website.
Oregon Representative Ben Cannon said during the debate that “Deca is an effective fire retardant, but it poses potentially serious health risks. Using it does not make us safer when there are safe and equally effective alternatives to Deca.”
As for iGPS’ request that FDA look at engineered wood, the agency might save itself time by examining California’s policy which is one of the most stringent in the world. At the request of NWPCA, the California Air Pollution Board (CARB) reviewed wood packaging industry practices and came to the conclusion that “these products are not subject to any of the requirements of the airborne toxic control measure.”
“Plastic pallet companies are in a difficult position,” said Scholnick. “Without Deca their products represent an extreme fire hazard; with it they pose other risks. iGPS is in a difficult position and they are responding by tossing around non-supportable claims and accusations.
“There are numerous studies that substantiate the safety of wood packaging on a number of variables including sanitization, fire reaction, strength and durability,” Scholnick added. “We’ve submitted these for examination. Where are the studies from iGPS that support the safety of food that comes in contact with Deca dust? Where are the studies that evidence that the gases from burning plastic pallets containing Deca will not injure fire fighters? Where are the end-of-life studies that prove an iGPS plastic pallet, which contains a heavy metal rod, can be fully recycled? Show the world the data.”
The NWPCA represents wood pallet and container companies in 28 countries including the United States where it is headquartered. Wood pallets are made from a natural material that is reusable, repairable, recyclable and made from a renewable resource. It is a byproduct using lumber that lacks cosmetic appeal for housing materials, furniture and wood flooring, but offers strength and durability. When wood pallets can no longer be repaired to a standard that will ensure protection of the goods being shipped and safety of workers handling the load, the pallets are recycled into new products such as landscape mulch, animal bedding, boiler fuel, firewood and wood stove pellets. The nails from ground pallet chips are removed through a variety of collection technologies and sold as scrap metal to be used again. Wood pallets are the sustainable choice.
National Wooden Pallet and Container Association
1421 Prince Street, Suite 340, Alexandria, VA 22314-2805
Tel: 703-519-6104 w Fax: 703-519-4720 w www.palletcentral.com