Expert advice from IFCO’s Global Director of Food Safety

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 3rd December 2019, in Food Safety Stories

IFCO takes food safety seriously. The company’s Director of Food Safety and Quality, Jeffery Mitchell, is an expert in food-borne illness prevention. He is also an expert in validation of washing and sanitizing processes to ensure pathogen mitigation. Mitchell’s job is to make sure that IFCO reusable plastic containers (RPCs) are safe for transporting food.

Meet our Food Safety expert

Jeffery Mitchell, Director of Food Safety and Quality at IFCO, has spent his entire career protecting people and ensuring their health. He is an expert on pathogens that are transmitted through food, and his job is to prevent illness and promote food safety. Following more than 20 years in the U.S. Army’s Public Health Command, where he served as Commander Food Safety Office, Mitchell has led initiatives related to food safety and sanitation for retail, quick-service restaurants and food processing. At IFCO, Jeffery ensures that our RPCs are safe for food transport globally.

Are IFCO RPCs safe for food transport? How can people be sure?

Yes, they are! In our more than 25 years of operation, IFCO has never had a food contamination issue. IFCO RPCs are made of impervious, food-grade polypropylene with a smooth finish that promotes effective cleaning and sanitizing. At IFCO, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our reusable plastic containers are hygienically clean so they can be used again and that they are absolutely safe for food transport. Above all, we do this through our science-based wash and sanitation /disinfection processes, supported by ongoing verification and validation.

What food safety measures are important for growers, producers or retailers?

As IFCO RPCs are meant to be shared and reused, the wash process plays a critical role in ensuring safety of the crates. Our wash process has been validated to ensure it can effectively eliminate contaminates that the RPCs can be subjected to as they move through the supply chain – for example, from their use in fields. And validation is not a one-time event. We continue testing to make sure we eliminate new or emerging plant viruses. We take a seek-and-destroy strategy on microorganisms. Pathogens including bacteria or plant viruses that might be found in the food supply chain do not stand a chance against the antimicrobial detergents and disinfectants used in the IFCO wash process.

"We make sure IFCO RPCs are safe for food through our science-based wash and disinfection processes, supported by ongoing verification and validation."

How do IFCO wash processes ensure RPCs’ hygiene?

Effective cleaning involves four key variables: temperature, detergent concentration, contact time and agitation. We established the critical limits for these four variables as part of our validation testing and we leverage technology to enhance the monitoring and control our processes. These variables are monitored every single minute, and we continually evaluate our processes to make sure we have the right combination of variables for the type of RPC and the products it carries. We understand that validating our process against the microorganisms that are the most difficult to inactivate is the best approach to benchmark our process. I believe that our systematic and thorough level of cleaning and testing makes us unique in the industry.

“With billions of shipments since 1992, IFCO RPCs have never been linked to a transfer of a plant virus or other microorganisms.”

Why are RPCs different from tools, such as knives, that can transmit viruses and bacteria?

First, our RPCs are made of food-grade polypropylene that can be cleaned and sanitized effectively. Our wash process very successfully removes contaminants and any microorganisms including viruses, which – unlike bacteria – cannot attach to surfaces. The impervious material is also resistant to the deleterious effects of chemicals used during washing and disinfection. And it is flexible, which means it does not become brittle over time and form microcracks or fissures which can make effective cleaning and sanitizing difficult.

Have any cases of plant virus transmission through IFCO RPCs been recorded?

With billions of shipments since 1992, IFCO RPCs have never been linked to a food safety incident or transfer of a plant virus or other microorganism. We ensure food safety in other ways as well. With their robust design, IFCO RPCs protect fresh produce from damage, which can lead to spoilage. Optimal ventilation preserves freshness, and it suppresses mold growth.

IFCO RPCs not only uphold food safety prerequisites; they are cost-efficient and sustainable. I believe IFCO RPCs represent the future of fresh food packaging.

How do you ensure, monitor and verify cleanliness?

We validate and verify our processes. We follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach to assess, prevent and reduce risks.. To verify our processes, in addition to frequent swabbing of crates, we continually perform environmental monitoring program (EMP) swabs of the wash-machine surfaces.

Swabbing is an important part of verification but no matter what you manufacture, you cannot test your way to safety. So in addition, we have independent, third-party auditing to verify that our processes meet all food safety standards – and our own expectations.

“We at IFCO are eager to share our food safety knowledge with others in the industry.”

What is your role at IFCO in ensuring food safety?

My focus in food safety is and has always been prevention in place of reaction in reference to food safety. To prevent outbreaks, you need to understand pathogen survival and transfer. I continuously monitor the market for emerging risks , to ensure that our processes remain effective.. The more you learn, the better you understand the relationship between causes and effects.

It’s also important to participate in research and industry organizations, where you can share and learn about best practices. Food safety is everyone’s business. All the participants in the food supply chain can play a part in reducing the risk of food product contamination. Everyone should look at their food-handling processes to determine how to prevent, eliminate, or reduce risks. For anyone who seeks assistance, we offer advice and support on how to install food safety programs.

Why should customers trust IFCO on food safety?

As outlined, IFCO RPCs are made of material that can be cleaned effectively. We have validated, stringent wash and sanitation/disinfection processes that we continually monitor and verify through swabbing and hygiene testing.. We conform to good manufacturing practices (GMP) and train our employees in food safety, including personal hygiene and sanitation. At IFCO, we are eager to share food safety knowledge with others in the industry. As participants in the fresh supply chain, we all have to work together to protect public health as well as crop integrity.

Where can IFCO customers find answers to their questions?

The easiest way is to contact your local office. We are as close as a phone call or email – or click here. Please let us know how we can support you. We look forward to answering any further questions you may have.

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