Executive Briefings

Safety Guidelines Issued for Reusing Plastic Packaging for Food, Perishable Products

The Reusable Packaging Association has issued comprehensive protocols to ensure the continued safe use of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) for fresh and perishable products in the supply chain. The guidelines encompass washing, handling, storing, packing, displaying and collecting RPCs. They also include rigorous and defined Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP), and hourly, daily, monthly, and quarterly microbiological testing.

Safety Guidelines Issued for Reusing Plastic Packaging for Food, Perishable Products

There has never been a documented food safety issue associated with RPCs, according to the RPA. In order to maintain this stellar record, the organization established a Food Safety Working Group in 2014 comprised of retailers, grower shippers, manufacturers, industry associations and RPC providers to ensure their interests were represented in the resulting guidelines.

“RPCs have become a pervasive and essential part of the food supply chain. It is important that each member of the supply chain has a clear understanding of their role for the safe and efficient use of RPCs,” said Paul Pederson, chair of the RPA Food Safety Working Group and Director of Food Safety & Compliance at IFCO Systems.

Although the RPA is not an enforcing body, the association believes the guidelines will be widely adopted because they were developed with broad industry support and input.

Key recommendations for growers and retailers

For growers and retailers, a large part of the recommendations address practices to keep clean RPCs from coming into contact with potential contaminants. For growers, key practices include: wrapping pallets of clean RPCs, transporting RPCs in covered van trailers or flatbed trailers with covers, regular inspection of trailers, storing RPCs under cover, and using only RPC-compliant labels.

Retailer guidelines include handling and loading RPC pallets like any other packaged commodity.

Additionally, the RPA recommends that retailers and growers take steps to properly secure and store used RPCs to minimize their potential to contaminate other products and materials. Key recommendations for growers and retailers include:

• Stack empty or used RPCs in a uniform and interlocking manner, collapsed, to eliminate potential for them to topple over and contaminate other product in the area

• Wrap used pallets tightly and promptly notify RPC provider for pickup

Creating stable and wrapped loads also helps prevent cross-contamination during transit and at the RPC provider’s facilities.

Guidelines for adhesive labels

The committee also researched and developed guidelines for adhesives labels to help make sure that RPCs are clean and free of adhesive residue for each trip through the produce supply chain. The RPA also created a protocol to thoroughly test whether adhesive labels meet the new guidelines.

Key recommendations for RPC providers

The most detailed and numerous guidelines affect providers of RPCs. One of the more noteworthy best practices is the adoption of a comprehensive microbiological sanitation and testing regime that covers human and plant pathogens in all aspects. This includes digitally dosing and controlling detergents and sanitizers. Thresholds and parts per million (ppm) should strictly follow chemical manufacturer guidelines for food and food contact materials. Redundant electronic and manual processes should ensure these parameters are always correct. Additionally, the RPA recommends that suppliers adhere to Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) to control biological, chemical and physical hazards in the production process. It is further recommended that companies maintain a trained and qualified individual to monitor compliance with the HACCP program.

The full guidelines are available from the RPA web site.

Source: Reusable Packaging Association

There has never been a documented food safety issue associated with RPCs, according to the RPA. In order to maintain this stellar record, the organization established a Food Safety Working Group in 2014 comprised of retailers, grower shippers, manufacturers, industry associations and RPC providers to ensure their interests were represented in the resulting guidelines.

“RPCs have become a pervasive and essential part of the food supply chain. It is important that each member of the supply chain has a clear understanding of their role for the safe and efficient use of RPCs,” said Paul Pederson, chair of the RPA Food Safety Working Group and Director of Food Safety & Compliance at IFCO Systems.

Although the RPA is not an enforcing body, the association believes the guidelines will be widely adopted because they were developed with broad industry support and input.

Key recommendations for growers and retailers

For growers and retailers, a large part of the recommendations address practices to keep clean RPCs from coming into contact with potential contaminants. For growers, key practices include: wrapping pallets of clean RPCs, transporting RPCs in covered van trailers or flatbed trailers with covers, regular inspection of trailers, storing RPCs under cover, and using only RPC-compliant labels.

Retailer guidelines include handling and loading RPC pallets like any other packaged commodity.

Additionally, the RPA recommends that retailers and growers take steps to properly secure and store used RPCs to minimize their potential to contaminate other products and materials. Key recommendations for growers and retailers include:

• Stack empty or used RPCs in a uniform and interlocking manner, collapsed, to eliminate potential for them to topple over and contaminate other product in the area

• Wrap used pallets tightly and promptly notify RPC provider for pickup

Creating stable and wrapped loads also helps prevent cross-contamination during transit and at the RPC provider’s facilities.

Guidelines for adhesive labels

The committee also researched and developed guidelines for adhesives labels to help make sure that RPCs are clean and free of adhesive residue for each trip through the produce supply chain. The RPA also created a protocol to thoroughly test whether adhesive labels meet the new guidelines.

Key recommendations for RPC providers

The most detailed and numerous guidelines affect providers of RPCs. One of the more noteworthy best practices is the adoption of a comprehensive microbiological sanitation and testing regime that covers human and plant pathogens in all aspects. This includes digitally dosing and controlling detergents and sanitizers. Thresholds and parts per million (ppm) should strictly follow chemical manufacturer guidelines for food and food contact materials. Redundant electronic and manual processes should ensure these parameters are always correct. Additionally, the RPA recommends that suppliers adhere to Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) to control biological, chemical and physical hazards in the production process. It is further recommended that companies maintain a trained and qualified individual to monitor compliance with the HACCP program.

The full guidelines are available from the RPA web site.

Source: Reusable Packaging Association

Safety Guidelines Issued for Reusing Plastic Packaging for Food, Perishable Products