(This open letter was sent Oct. 28, 2014, to all growers/shippers and retailers by Jerry Welcome, president of the Reusable Packaging Association, on behalf of the group’s members.) Providing a safe food supply chain is a top concern for the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) and our members. In fact, there has never been a documented food safety issue associated with the use of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) in Canada or the U.S. To help maintain this stellar record, we formed an RPC Food Safety Standards Committee earlier this year. This industry-wide committee, which includes the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and other stakeholders from Canada, has been researching and developing even stronger sanitation protocols for reusable containers based on HACCP, GMPs, and other food safety regimens identified by the U.S. FDA and its Canadian counterparts. The guidelines also draw from recognized international food safety standards and practices. The Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association (CCCA) is distributing a report from the University of Guelph with questionable results about a study on the cleanliness of RPCs used by Canadian growers, shippers, and retailers. We believe that using the threat of food safety as a marketing tool is a disservice to the consumer and to the industries we serve. Here are the facts: RPCs have been used to ship food products such as milk, eggs, and produce in the U.S. and Europe for more than 20 years without a single documented incidence of food contamination attributable to their use. The guidelines being developed by the RPC Food Safety Standards Committee will strengthen the safety of reusable containers even more. When they are published later this year, we will encourage all manufacturers, service providers, users, and retailers to adopt and adhere to them. When fully vetted, the guidelines will become the best practices for reusables in the food supply chain. The guidelines have been researched and discussed by a broad cross-section of representatives of the food supply chain. They include the manufacturers of reusable products and service providers, shippers and growers, label manufacturers, retailers, and industry trade groups such as United Fresh, CPMA, PMA, the Canadian Horticulture Association, and many other Canadian groups. They have been working diligently to make sure we are doing everything possible as an industry to address potential food safety concerns with real measurable solutions. The use of returnable shipping containers is increasing in the food industry. This growth is occurring because reusables offer multiple documented benefits over expendable packaging, including cost reductions, less waste, better product protection, better transportation utilization, easier-to-handle containers, and a more environmental friendly and sustainable business for all users in the supply chain. These benefits are challenging expendable products in the marketplace. The suppliers of those products are now turning to scare tactics and questionable studies to stem the incursion of reusables into an area where they have been the dominant supplier. We need to separate real issues from perceived ones. We need to identify real threats to the safety of our food supply system and stay focused on dealing with these issues in a collaborative and rational manner. RPA and its members remain committed to working with users and retailers to identify potential issues and resolve them together. We welcome the participation of our detractors, as well as our supporters, to address real food safety issues and to continually strengthen reusable solutions and practices to create a safer food supply.

  • Keith Warriner

    Rather than standing behind sound bites I would be interested to know what are the specific standards for RPC’s. Should we accept a certain level of indicators beyond a typical sanitary food contact surface. I agree that the food safety risk is low but it is something that can be easily addressed by ensuring crates are sanitized. Why drive the crates 100’s of km only to wash them down with water? Retailers could do that and save a trip.

  • Brunhilde Merker, ScoringAg

    I guess your opinion is not correct when I read the research made by the University of Guelph (Ontario) and printed in http://www.foodqualitynews.com/Industry-news/Reusable-produce-containers-often-contaminated
    How can produce being not contaminated in containers with rat and bird feces in it?
    It’s easy to sanitize RPC’s with the right equipment: http://scoringag-equipment.com/products.cfm used already by responsible companies.

  • CMB

    In August 2010, Umpqua Dairy of Roseburg OR recalled milk products that had caused an outbreak of salmonella. The milk was not contamintated. Instead, it was the reusable plastic crates that carried the pathogen, which then contaminated the containers, which were handled by consumers and few got sick.

    The statement that “there has never been a documented food safety issue associated with the
    use of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) in Canada or the U.S.,” without further qualification, is not true.


  • Dusty Johnson

    I will say that the use of RPC have been an improvement over the wooden pallets and cardboard crates that many of us in the regularity industry still see in both the retail and manufacturing facilities. The claim however that RPC have not been a source of contamination is a stretch in my opinion. Those of us who have conducted FBI investigations know how difficult it can be to trace down the source of contamination. Claiming that they have never been a source of contamination, it is like a restaurant owner saying that he or she knows they have never made anyone sick.

    I belief the claim here is that the food product contained within the RPC where never
    contaminated by the RPC. This does not mean that the product container was not contaminated
    by the RPC, which is the point the individual below is making. Regardless of if the RPC contaminated the milk or the milk container it still was the source of contamination in my opinion.

    RPC are made of a rigid, nonabsorbent and easily cleanable material which like I said earlier makes them an improvement on cardboard and wooden containers. They are still prone to damage though andthose gouges and grooves provide great sites for pathogen growth if the
    containers are not maintained and cleaned on regular bases. Many of you I think would agree that this is not done by the majority of the food production industry.