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Food scientist warns retailers that live bacteria on crates is like a “smoking gun”

A third independent scientific study has raised concerns about re-using plastic crates to deliver fresh produce to retailers. This time it’s from the Center for Food Safety at the University of Arkansas(1)The two earlier studies, by food scientists at the University of Guelph and the University of California (Davis), are referenced in a previous blog.. The latest study concluded that bacteria adhered to crates and formed biofilms including salmonella, listeria and E. Coli, and that both commercial and industrial sanitising and scrubbing methods could not eliminate them.

“The food industry has a lot of food safety regulations in place,” lead researcher Dr Steven Ricke told The Produce News, “and we do a very good job. (But) what we don’t realise is (that) food-borne pathogens don’t always get the regulatory memo.” “You want to avoid opportunities,” he said. “We know (bacteria) can attach. How extensive is that attachment? How permeable into food products?”

“Our job as experts in food science is to determine how to avoid risks, and from what we know through research is, one, re-use is a source for contamination, and two, cleaning or scrubbing does not eliminate biofilms.”

“In addition to the scanning electron microscope work, we also did a molecular test, which means we had to recover live cells. These were definitely live cells, alive and recoverable, so the opportunity is there. Any guess as to where they go is speculation, but if they’re there and they’re alive they’re sitting there like a smoking gun.”

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John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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1. The two earlier studies, by food scientists at the University of Guelph and the University of California (Davis), are referenced in a previous blog.

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