RPA looks to create standards for cleaning reusable plastic containers

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A push is under way to standardize the cleaning of reusable plastic containers often used to ship produce from the fields to retailers.

The Reusable Packaging Association of Arlington, Va., is establishing what it calls an industry-wide committee to work on sanitation standards and guidelines for the containers.

"The use of returnable plastic containers, particularly in the produce industry, has grown tremendously. And as it's grown, I think we've had questions from retailers and whatnot about issues such as cleaning and sanitation," Jerry Welcome, president of the RPA, in an interview with Plastics News.

"What we're trying to do is come up with a guideline for our members to use so we have a consistency throughout the system of how these issues should be addressed, particularly anything that's going to relate to the food safety laws," he said. "I think what we're trying to do is make sure that the retailer is comfortable with the things that we are doing, that they recognize that we do have methodologies, that we do have practices that are acceptable."

IFCO Systems is a major provider of reusable plastic containers and a member of the committee.

"We want to establish common and public standards that will further increase confidence in the sanitation and food safety of RPCs," said Paul Pedersen, chairman of the committee and director of food safety and compliance for IFCO, in a statement.

IFCO, one of the world's largest providers of reusable plastic containers, is a member of the committee along with fellow reusable container providers Tosca Ltd. and Polymer Logistics, the association said.

Reusable container providers and cleaning services each use their own sanitation and food safety standards currently. The committee wants to develop best practices for the industry and then agree to follow those recommendations, the association said.

The Reusable Packaging Association includes manufacturers, poolers, distributors, retailers and educators.

"We will incorporate input from retailers, growers, and shippers so that the outcome reflects the needs of all the players in the supply chain," Pederson said.

The committee, at this point, also includes Oryx Automation, a packaging machinery company, and Label and Barcode Inc. The association expects more companies to join as the committee begins its work.

The goal of the committee is to create recognized practices for the industry that are easily accessible for members of the association. Members of the association already have access to food safety standards created by AIB International, a non-profit group that works with food safety. But the goal of the new work is to create guidelines that are more industry specific for those in the Reusable Packaging Association.

"This is something that's important to our members and our customers and we want to make sure we get it right," Welcome said.