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Best Practices for Reusing Food Transport Containers in the Food Processing Supply Chain

Written by Dustin Caudell
December 10, 2015

Reusable food containers must be routinely cleaned.

Reusable food containers must be routinely cleaned.

Reusing business assets can save company money and it’s often better for the environment. Instead of creating disposable transport containers for food products, many consumable manufacturers and suppliers opt to use reusable storage bins in their warehouse management strategies and supply chain activities. Obtaining and using permanent assets in place of disposable materials can improve a business’s financial situation and public image, but only when managers implement the inventory assets properly.

The Difference Between Reusable and Repurposed

The food industry faces unique obstacles when providing the public with consumable products. Merchandise is often perishable and fragile. There are strict government guidelines in place for consumer safety to prevent spoilage and contamination from outside pathogens.

While other companies may use a variety of storage bins or materials to pack and transport objects, the containers utilized to hold food must prioritize safety and managers should use assets designed with precise allocation in mind. Food Safety News reported a Massachusetts consumer will sue a bakery for using old egg cartons to store discarded shells. A child ate pastries from the business and contracted Salmonella. An investigation revealed the contamination probably originated from dirty storage bins the company kept on premise.

Food manufacturers can’t just repurpose old bins and materials without considering possible contamination risks. Often, businesses choose to use disposable transport cases and packaging so they can just throw out possible health hazards. This creates a lot of waste and could end up costing companies more money than they can afford to lose, especially when discarding becomes a default plan and standards for cleanliness drop off.

Handling Materials Designed for Reuse

If a food manufacturer or distributor wants to start employing reusable assets, it must locate materials designed for that specific use, as well as cleaning and redeployment. Companies can find the right assets and partners that will assist in hygiene and transport.

When companies work with other businesses to clean reusable bins, it’s important organizations in the food industry find partners with a complete track record of safety. The Packer, a fruit and vegetable distribution news source, said the Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association found certain reusable plastic container cleaning processes can still leave bacteria behind. While organizations returned plastic bins that were free from E. coli, salmonella and listeria after cleaning, some of the assets were still found to have higher bacterial load levels than food regulators suggest is safe.

Reports like this have caused the reusable bin industry grief, but keep in mind, the Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association promotes disposable warehouse assets and has a vested interested in discrediting reusable plastic options. Food Safety News reported reusable plastic containers have never been linked to food pathogen outbreaks. It’s still a best practice, however, to emphasize care and cleanliness when working with materials that come into contact with numerous consumable products.

Food Company Reusable Plastic Bin Best Practices

Supply Chain Brain said the Reusable Plastic Container Association has hazard analysis & critical control points to ensure businesses meet the necessary guidelines for quality. Partners that handle bins should provide information gathered by data collection routines to demonstrate compliance. All companies that have to track supply chain assets should think about employing automated data collection solutions to create consistent records.

The Reusable Plastic Container Association also has suggestions for the food manufacturers and suppliers that utilize reusable plastic bins. Companies should stack containers securely. Organizations have to be careful to prevent falling or interaction with the ground and other possible sources of contamination. Assets should be tightly wrapped and delivered for cleaning at regular intervals.

Both cleaning agencies and food manufacturers should routinely test reusable bins to make sure there are no dangerous pathogens on the surface of assets. It’s wise to check materials as soon as they return from a partner’s possession to ensure all businesses in the supply chain comply with government regulations and best practices.

If a company wants better oversight of all of its warehouse assets, it can use barcode labels. Barcode data collection allows employees to use automated data collection devices to report regular reusable plastic bin activities to managers, partners and government regulators. The Reusable Plastic Container Association has suggestions for how to apply adhesive labels to reusable bins so they will aid routines without getting in the way of the cleaning process.

Read more on implementing Traceability throughout your organization.