The beginning of the COVID pandemic saw businesses around the world reevaluate supply chains for safety and look at every surface with new scrutiny. But one piece of equipment had already been questioned years ago and found wanting: wood pallets.
Though still common in food supply chains, wood pallets are known to be difficult to clean and to absorb liquid contaminants. This is a well-known problem, and stricter hygiene regulations under the Food Safety and Modernization Act have put wood pallets under an even brighter light.
Manufacturers who use safer shipping platforms such as modern plastic pallets can avoid costly recalls while lowering load rejection rates. Rethinking your shipping platform of choice is a great way to make your supply chain safer and more hygienic.
How Contaminated Wood Pallets Get That Way
For most of human history, wood has been relied upon as a building material. And there are good reasons for that: it is relatively cheap, easy to build with, and, when properly stewarded, largely renewable.
But wood has many drawbacks as well. When it comes to pallets, especially those used in the food or pharmaceutical supply chain, one of the biggest drawbacks is potential contamination. Wood pallets serve as an excellent host for contaminants for a few reasons. One is that wood is an absorbent material, which means liquids can seep into the pores and fibers of the wood. Liquids that are absorbed may themselves be contaminants, such as chemicals, or, in the case of water, may create an attractive environment for contaminants like mold, mildew, and bacteria. Actual cracks and splinters in wood, on the other hand, can harbor other types of substances and even pests.
What Lives in and on Wood
There are three primary categories of contaminants for wood pallets:
- Microbial: The first type of contaminant is microbial. Some of the more common microbes found in the food supply chain are E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria. If consumed, these contaminants can cause sicknesses (or worse), and can lead to headache-inducing recalls and long-lasting reputation damage.
- Odors: Odors are rarely harmful, but may affect the quality of groceries being shipped, and may be a sign of another type of contamination, such as chemical contamination.
- Chemical: Chemicals such as those used in cleaning warehouses or those transported by pallets can be absorbed by wood and lead to contaminated products and costly recalls.
In some cases, the chemicals used to treat and clean pallets may even cause the contamination, as we’ll see below.
Problems with Cleaning and Sanitizing Wooden Pallets
There are two primary ways to ensure that wood pallets are hygienic: water and chemical processes. Spraying pressurized water on contaminated wood pallets does a great job of removing pests and visible dirt and debris. However, some of the water is also absorbed by the wood, which can lead to mold and mildew—never something a retailer wants to see coming into their loading dock.
One way of preventing fungal contamination is through the use of fungicide treatments on wood pallets. This has led to its own problems, including pharmaceuticals tainted by a byproduct of a fungicide. If this type of contamination occurs, the tainted product will be rejected or end up recalled, all of which adds to skyrocketing costs.
Because wood pallets are so difficult to clean and easy to contaminate, supply chain and logistics managers in numerous industries are increasingly looking for alternatives to wood pallets.
The Advantages of Plastic Pallets
There are few more highly regulated industries than grocery and pharmaceuticals. These are the industries that feed us and keep us healthy, and the consequences of a hygiene failure can be enormous for both manufacturers and retailers. As a result, those involved in the supply chain often strive not just to meet, but to exceed regulations and guidelines around food and drug safety.
The type of pallets used to transport those food and drugs play a big role in the safety of the supply chain. Plastic pallets meet all food-grade pallet standards, and are FDA-approved for pharmaceutical shipping.
Plastic pallets have a lot of advantages that help keep the supply chain hygienic. High-quality plastic platforms are:
- Non-absorbent. Chemicals and odors don’t sink into plastic pallets, facilitating mold or mildew.
- Easy to clean. They can be simply power-washed clean of dirt and debris.
- Sanitizable. If necessary, safe antimicrobial treatments can be used to reduce bacterial count to a very low level.
As FSMA rules continue to roll out and retailers and consumers put an even greater premium on supply chain safety and hygiene, plastic pallets offer an easy way to avoid the uncertainty of wood pallets. Given the many other advantages of plastic pallets, such as light weight, recyclability, trackability, and stable dimensions, it’s clear why businesses are switching to pooled plastic shipping pallets.
iGPS provides 100% recyclable plastic pallets that reduce the risk of contamination. To learn more about how our pallets stay safer and cleaner, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.