Wood Pallets and
How They Affect Your Health
Over the course of the past few decades, consumers around the globe have become more conscientious of the health risks associated with food and drugs. Popular restaurants have seen E.coli outbreaks, and the warnings associated with prescription and over the counter drugs have intensified.
Many seek to find the root of why our products today are at risk. Many Americans believe that the Food and Drug Administration can protect us from contamination. However, with the advent of new companies and new ways of storing products, and with logistical companies being pressured to provide quicker and more efficient service, the FDA cannot provide 100% protection against contamination.
A reason as to why this risk exists is the way in which food and drugs are stored and transported.
The use of wood pallets in this process plays a key role in whether or not contaminated products may reach the shelves of your local retailor. Many enterprises today seek viable alternatives to this traditional means of storage and transportation in order to have better peace of mind that their products will not become contaminated.
You need to understand the risks and benefits of using wooden pallets, as well as the risks and benefits of non-wooden pallets, in order to make an informed decision as to what type of transport system you should use for your products.
Wooden pallets have been used in a variety of industries for a century. Many shippers still consider them a very inexpensive way to organize, store, and deliver goods.
Wooden pallets are also very robust and durable. They can be used and reused literally for decades if they are maintained properly. Wooden pallets can also be easily recycled, repurposed, and reused.
Given the constant use and reuse of wooden pallets over an extended period of time, and the different types of products stored on the pallets, certain contamination dangers become obvious.
Many wooden pallets have absorptive properties. As the pallet is continuously repurposed, this exposes the wood to a very diverse assortment of germs and bacteria. These contaminants can be absorbed and potentially passed on to the next product stored on the pallet.
Why Is This Important?
As the world changed, we saw an influx of mass-production for our most vital resources. What you eat, and the drugs you take, are both ingested into the body. If during their production they were stored in a facility that left them vulnerable to contamination, then the consumer is also vulnerable.
Wooden pallets can pose risks that jeopardize the health of those using the products it stored. To put this in perspective, a wooden pallet used at an agricultural warehouse to hold raw meat and hides, could one day be repurposed to the warehouse that supplies your local pharmacy. There are any number of real world examples that illustrate this, and typically the larger the firm, the less oversight there is when it comes to storage practices.
Concerns about bacteria, germs, and other contaminants are further exacerbated by this diverse use over the years and the lack of proper sanitation techniques between repurposing. It is also really difficult to clean wood.
Due to the number of wooden pallets constantly being repurposed and put back into immediate service, it is very easy to overlook the necessity of using proper sanitation techniques, especially for pallets used in facilities that store food and drugs.
Wooden Pallet Health
There are any number of different bacteria that can be absorbed into the wooden structure of the pallet. Different studies have produced slightly different results, but the general figures tend to agree among all the reports.
An excellent example of a carefully conducted study was done in New Orleans. The study found that 43% of all wood pallets tested in a representative warehouse in the city were contaminated with bacteria. Of that number, multiple pallets had over 1,000,000 grams of bacteria per unit. This is a very high level and guarantees cross contamination.
Types of Contamination
and the Effects
Consumers were affected by this contamination. One of the most common complaints was gastrointestinal issues. However, there have been reports of more serious illnesses associated with companies that store products in a way akin to that of Tylenol’s company. Salmonella, E. coli, and listeria are some of the more serious strains that have been harbored within wooden pallets. These are potentially life threatening after contact.
Even attempts to sanitize these pallets have backfired. Frequently, to ease the worries of consumers, firms will claim to use cleaning agents to kill bacteria. However, many of the agents being used contain harmful pesticides that also can have serious ramifications for the health of the consumer.
The agent used, to supposedly sanitize the wood pallets that led to the recall of Tylenol, was the same cleaning agent used that caused a recall of Lipitor a year later. This strain was known as 2,4,6-Tribromoanisole (or TBA). TBA is easily identified due to its strong odor and can be, if used incorrectly, potentially fatal. While TBA is not permitted for sanitary use in the United States, other countries do not have these restrictions. The use of TBA to sanitize wooden pallets has been linked to a number of international shipments, most notably from South America.
Storage and Other
While some attempts to sanitize wood pallets have backfired, of more concern in some ways is the complete lack of sanitation that is the norm rather than the exception.
Companies and firms use pallets for a variety of reasons. Pallets can carry pretty much anything that size permits, and they are designed to be easily moved via forklift and other machines. Obviously, over the course of its usage, a pallet can be exposed to any number of pollutants.
The FDA has investigated and reported that many, if not the majority, of companies store unused pallets outside. Depending on the location, this can be a major health hazard.
For example, pallets stored outside of manufacturing plants can be susceptible to acid rain, animal feces, and other problems. If these pallets are later used to store or move ingestible items like fruits and vegetables, this can be dangerous.
What Is the Alternative?
With the many concerns swirling around the usage of wooden pallets, many companies in the food and drug sectors are seeking viable alternatives to using wood. Alternatives, in this case, are not difficult to find. Pallets can be made from a variety of different materials. The two types that are considered a much better alternative than wood are those made of plastic or metal.
There is a viable solution to wooden pallets. If a company is storing food or drugs, the FDA and industry groups have conducted research and, in most instances, recommend conversion to plastic or metal pallets.
Advantages of Non-Wooden Pallets
Plastic and metal pallets offer many upsides to their wooden counterparts. For one thing, those materials crack less easily than wood. The fewer cracks in the surface material of the pallet, the fewer bacteria can be absorbed, contaminating the pallets.
Plastic and metal are less susceptible to the elements than wood is. For example, when it rains, the moisture creates the perfect environment in wood for bacteria to grow. Plastic and metal, however, easily repel water.
Plastic and metal pallets are easier to sanitize than wooden pallets are. Wooden pallets are likely to retain chemicals from cleaning agents. The risk of this occurring is dramatically reduced by employing pallets made of alternative materials.
Plastic and metal are impervious to acids, solvents, and odors. They also can repel infestations, mildew, and mold.
Plastic pallets also allow for heat sterilization, something that cannot be done if you use wooden pallets. This greatly reduces the chances of germ or bacterial contamination.
Metal and plastic are even more durable than wood. Wood may be easier to recycle, but metal and plastic last longer. This means less turnover and less cross contamination due to the germ-repelling properties of plastic and metal.
Weight and Climate
Plastic pallets weigh almost 30% less than the weight of wooden pallets. This makes them easier to handle and easier to stack.
Companies that have begun using pallets made of alternative materials have reported success in lowering their rates of contamination. For example, firms forced to recall products due to wooden pallet bacteria and germ problems, and who then transitioned to plastic, have claimed a lower contamination rate during follow-up testing.
The 21st century has brought about a new consumer awareness that was not previously a factor in the global marketplace. In part due to the rapid rise of technology, buyers now have the ability to find key information about their food and their medicine. The advent of the Internet and Google is making consumers more educated than ever.
For example, a person is in a pharmacy looking for a pain reliever. Upon searching for one, he or she does a quick Google search to determine which is the safest to use. At this point, she discovers that Tylenol was recalled due to the unsanitary conditions related to the use of wooden pallets.