BlogPlastic Pallet Benefits over Wood

The dairy industry is very aware of the advantages of a plastic pallet. In fact, if you’re shopping around for a pallet for dairy in the 40×40 pallet size, most of the pallets that you’ll see are in fact plastic pallets. Anyone who has ever smelled sour milk will immediately grasp the obvious advantage of a plastic pallet in the dairy supply chain. Plastic pallets can be effectively washed where wooden ones will quickly develop a distinctive odor.

However, the typical plastic dairy pallet does have some drawbacks. The first is that most of these are one-way pallets. If you’ve ever seen a forklift deposit loaded pallets in a row only to have to move all of them just to reach the first one, the disadvantages are already clear to you. And while the 40×40 measurement is perfect for milk crates, it’s not ideally suited for other dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, cheese, and butter. Dairy pallets work well when used to deliver milk from the dairy directly to retailers, but other dairy products are better shipped out on a standard 48×40 Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) spec pallet.

Why Choose a GMA Spec Pallet

The dual nature of the dairy supply chain is obvious once you pay attention to it. After all, when you buy milk, it’s usually the store’s brand or from a regional dairy. If you buy cheese or yogurt, it is more likely to be from a national brand. These products benefit most from a GMA spec pallet, and many already ship on a GMA spec wood pallet. The reason is that these dairy products are also groceries, and interoperability with the regular grocery supply chain makes distributing them easier, quicker, and more efficient. In cold chain logistics, that ease and efficiency really matter.

Anything that increases the efficiency and ease of shipping perishable goods benefits the entire dairy supply chain, from the producer to the retailer.

Since dairy products are temperature-sensitive perishables, even a short delay while a forklift operator tries to figure out how to lift a one-way pallet on the loading dock can cause the temperature of the product to fall and can shorten product lifespan dramatically. As a result, anything that increases the efficiency and ease of shipping perishable goods benefits the entire dairy supply chain, from the producer to the retailer. Switching to a GMA spec pallet is a relatively small change with a big impact. But, as we’ll talk about next, the material a pallet is made of is just as important as its size.

Why Your GMA Spec Pallet Should Be Plastic

Plastic pallets for dairy supply chainGMA spec pallets are often made of wood, but the material has several disadvantages. The most obvious one is that wood is difficult to clean and smells tend to linger. The difficulties go beyond odor, however. Wood pallets can affect the safety of dairy products in two major ways.

  1. Compromised Facilities: A wood pallet can absorb and hold water and other substances. A spill—say, of yogurt—can start the colonization of a wood pallet by bacteria like Listeria, salmonella, and other pathogens found in milk products. Wood can also absorb chemicals and cleaning agents and introduce them into storage and processing areas. Wood’s tendency to absorb and release moisture is of particular concern in the dairy supply chain where control over atmospheric moisture is necessary for quality control and to prevent the growth of bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes. Cold temperatures in refrigerated distribution centers cause moisture to condense on surfaces and absorbent wood pallets can transport this moisture, making atmospheric control more difficult. Food safety guidelines for dairy handling are stricter than for other types of food, making contamination of product, pallet, and storage and transportation areas especially problematic.
  2. Debris in Work Areas: Wood pallets are prone to breaking and splintering, especially after being lifted and moved numerous times using heavy machinery. As they deteriorate, wood pallets shed pieces of wood and nails that can damage equipment, injure personnel, and halt work. Debris can also spread bacterial contaminants in processing and loading areas and in transportation vehicles, and sharp wood splinters and nails have been known to puncture product packaging in transit.

Choosing a plastic pallet for dairy products avoids these issues and combines the easy interoperability of wood block pallets with the hygienic character of plastic dairy pallets. Plastic pallets are much more durable than wood as well—they’re built to bend before they break—and these features make GMA spec plastic pallets an especially good choice when used with an automated system.

Plastic Pallets Are the Best Option for Dairy Supply Chain Automation

Large-scale dairy product manufacturers have increasingly begun making investments in Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS). These automated systems work much more quickly and accurately than human labor and maintain consistently high speeds. This speed not only increases throughput but also helps to keep product temperatures consistent. However, as with other types of machines, getting consistently high—and high quality—output requires consistent inputs. Plastic GMA pallets provide that consistency in several ways.

  • Durability: A plastic pallet built with a unibody construction won’t create debris that can damage expensive ASRS machinery.
  • Sanitation: Plastic can be easily cleaned of any food or chemical spills, a key factor in keeping tightly controlled automated systems operating safely and hygienically.
  • Consistency: The weight and dimensions of a wood pallet can vary depending on moisture content, and any variability can potentially throw off an automated system. A plastic pallet has a uniform weight and consistent dimensions that help keep an ASRS running smoothly.

Given how time- and temperature-sensitive dairy products are, small problems can cause a big ripple effect up and down the supply chain, invariably resulting in a profit loss. Dairy supply chains need tight control over every aspect of the journey to the retailer in order to minimize waste and improve efficiency. Plastic pallets bring dependability to the dairy supply chain, optimizing operations and ultimately lowering a company’s Total Cost of Business (TCOB).

To increase throughput and improve consumer safety in the dairy supply chain with the iGPS pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.