Pathogens and viruses present a risk to people and crops. To prevent contamination, proper food handling and the right packaging are key. Find out how IFCO RPCs help you ensure food safety along the fresh supply chain.
"Food safety is everybody’s business." This is the message of the first ever International Food Safety Conference in February 2019, hosted by the World Health Organization and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Followed by the inaugural World Food Safety Day on June 7th, these events aim to raise awareness of foodborne risks. They also give participants in the food industry the opportunity to collaborate and work together on creating solutions.
"As the food industry adopts global standards, initiatives and benchmarks, its processes become more efficient," says Jeffery Mitchell, IFCO Director of Food Safety. And while international recommendations and national regulations can dictate proper behavior, rules cannot stand on their own. Such guidelines are only effective when people in the food industry actually follow them.
At the company level, this means installing a clear plan of how you want to achieve and maintain food safety. This includes choosing the correct packaging, such as reusable plastic containers for fresh produce, adhering to food safety regulations, and ensuring that your partners also follow strict standards.
In this article, we offer some general tips and advice on proper food handling that help you ensure the right safety standards. We also look at how using IFCO RPCs – which are washed and sterilized after every use – contributes to food safety in the fresh supply chain.
Stated simply, food safety is using methods of handling, storing and preparing food that prevent food contamination and the spread of food-borne pathogens. Understanding the principles of food safety and identifying any handling risks in your company are the first steps.
Everyone on staff needs to be aware that the risks and principles and consequences apply to what they do. "If employees don’t have the right attitude, willingness and effort, policies do not make much difference – people have to execute them," says Mitchell.
A food safety plan, no matter how well it is crafted, will only be effective if everyone involved clearly understands all measures and carries out activities consistently. "As you get the program in place, use education and communication to get buy in," advises Mitchell.
And effective food safety rests on the shoulders of managers. In any organization, from grower to retailer to restaurant, food safety "management champions" lead the way by demonstrating the right attitudes and behaviors.
This includes wearing required clothing such as hairnets and consistent handwashing before handling food. Here managers set a good example for their staff.
A formal food safety program identifies risks, spells out how these will be controlled, clarifies what training is needed, explains how to document procedures, and establishes what the critical monitoring points are. "There is no substitute for a systematic "one step at a time" approach for building a successful company food safety program," says Mitchell.
Then, by documenting procedures, you make it easier for employees to perform their tasks consistently and correctly. Documentation also allows any third-party inspections to verify your plan.
In general, plant viruses do not survive for an extended time outside the host plant. However, some non-enveloped viruses can survive on objects. The transmission risk is primarily plant-to-plant, including plant debris, but also possible through contact with workers’ hands, clothing or tools. Protective measures include frequent handwashing, wearing fresh clothing every day, using protective shoe covers and disinfecting tools frequently.
IMPORTANT NOTE: IFCO washes and sanitizes our reusable plastic containers (RPCs) after every use.
IFCO RPCs have never been linked to a food safety incident or transfer of a plant virus.
Early in the food supply chain, plant viruses are a specific food safety concern for growers. Following the harvest, and along the entire supply chain, having the right people and policies in place is supported by the right food packaging material and the right supplier. Every delivery of clean and sanitized IFCO reusable plastic containers RPCs have been through our certified wash process that follow the same stringent standards worldwide.
At every step of the supply chain, IFCO RPCs protect fresh produce from damage and spoilage, which helps preserve the quality of the commodities. For logistics operators and distribution centers, maintaining the cold chain is essential. Here, the ventilation provided by IFCO RPCs maintains optimal product hydration and temperature, to avoid overripening, mold or fungus growth.
In addition, our "one-touch handling" contributes to food safety. Fresh produce is harvested directly into IFCO RPCs and is then carried securely all along the fresh supply chain.
Our display-ready design means that retailers can place our RPCs directly in the shelves and swap them out when empty. This reduces manual handling of fresh produce until shoppers select fruits and vegetables for purchase.
At retail outlets, food safety does not end when the crates are empty. Avoiding mold and pests in the backroom is key. The food-grade polypropylene used for IFCO RPCs does not retain moisture, which helps prevent mold growth. And proper storage goes a long way towards preventing potential contamination or attracting pests. Retailers can contribute to food safety by stacking RPCs indoors, and by not using them as containers for any type of waste.
Following recollection of empty RPCs, IFCO washes and sanitizes crates individually in our specialized and globally standardized washing centers. Our wash processes guarantee that freshly washed and sanitized IFCO RPCs are as safe as new packaging.
Sharing best practices and data means that food safety standards achieve the same high levels in various locations. So, to deliver optimal food safety, your suppliers and other partners should follow the same guidelines as you. "That’s how you verify that your suppliers are safe and have a sound food safety program," Mitchell says.
For example, if any RPC rental customer wants to verify that IFCO has all the necessary food safety systems in place, IFCO can provide them with the IFCO Supplier Verification Packet that contains the required documentation.
IFCO is committed to food safety and the hygiene of our RPCs, and we verify this through continuous testing. We work extremely hard to establish food safety programs and standardize our global processes.
This is why – for growers, producers, distribution centers, retailers, and other food suppliers – IFCO is the right food safety partner when using RPCs.