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Pallet hygiene study: On wood, bacteria have a lower survival rate than on plastic

27 May, 2020 | published at 08:15 CET


Respected research explodes fantastic plastic perception

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The popular perception that plastic pallets are more hygienic in the food supply chain than their old-school wooden counterparts no longer stacks up, according to brand new European research.

While the world attempts to recover and resume business after the COVID-19 pandemic, a comparative study concludes that wood carries the day by being more than 13 times more able to eradicate bacteria than plastic.

After almost two years of detailed research carried out by the respected Institut für Holztechnologie Dresden (IHD), the 38-page document said that only newly-produced pallets are free of germs, irrespective of the material from which they are made.

Between February 2018 and December 2019, IHD performed a number of lab tests and examinations to determine the microbial properties of standard EPAL Euro pallets and of H1 plastic pallets.

In this study, pallet models of all common quality categories were examined and tested according to certified test methods. The pallets for lab testing were ordered from a dealer and originated from the commercial EPAL exchange system for load carriers.

They all had been used previously at least once and were not cleaned prior to testing. The lab tests were performed with Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

It further refuted the general conception that wood pallets, due to their coarse surfaces, are more susceptible to microbial attack, a point often made by manufacturers of plastic pallets.

However, it shows clearly that rough sections caused by wear on the surface of plastic pallets, which are a common feature in pre-used pallets, provide an ideal substrate for bacterial growth.

In contrast, wood has certain natural hygienic properties that prevent micro-organisms from spreading, as the quantitative results of the study show.

When used properly, wooden pallets have an antibacterial activity that is more than thirteen times higher than that of H1 plastic pallets.

The report said: “On wood, bacteria have a lower survival rate than on plastic. It is therefore safe to conclude that wood pallets are suitable for use in the hygiene-sensitive areas of food processing and transport.

“However, such use requires strict adherence to the hygiene regulations and standards that apply to the production, transport and storage of foodstuff, including continuous control of the pallet quality and regular cleaning.”

Welcoming the report, CEO of Faber Halbertsma Group, Ingrid Faber, a member of the European Federation of Wooden Pallets and Packaging Manufacturers, said: “The wooden pallet industry has endured a bad press over the years in terms of trying to disprove claims that it was less hygienic than plastic. This report vindicates our industry at a very important time in terms of the world getting back on its feet in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic."

“FEFPEB members welcome these findings as they will hopefully provide a level playing field when it comes to the competitive food supply chain pallet market.”