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Proposed Food Safety Rules Concern Pallet Industry
Food Safety and Modernization Act: Industry members are concerned that food safety regulations could result in significant new costs to supply chain.

By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 11/1/2013

                Following many delays, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making progress toward releasing final rules for the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law in 2011.

                The purpose of FSMA is to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it, which also puts a focus on practices along the entire food supply chain.

                Although there is little mention about pallets directly in the legislation, some of the wording in a proposed rule is concerning for the pallet industry. The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) has prepared comments on the proposed Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (produce rule) that outline the association’s concerns.

                “Our industry’s biggest concern with regard to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is related to language that leaves open to interpretation whether or not a pallet is to be ‘clean’ or ‘sanitized’ as ‘appropriate,” said Brent McClendon, president and chief executive officer.  “Within the Act, clean is defined as ‘no debris, soil, blood, oil, leaves’ similar to voluntary standards in practice today. Sanitized is defined as a treatment method that ‘uses heat or chemicals to effectively reduce 99.9% of pathogens.’”

                NWPCA supports a clean-use standard and believes the vagueness of the wording in the FSMA will cause inconsistent regulatory enforcement and confusion throughout the food supply chain.

                “We urge clarity in the use of a sanitized standard,” said McClendon. “For example, a food grower who has a demonstrated record of non-compliance with a ‘clean’ standard that has resulted in food contamination might be held to the higher ‘sanitized’ standard. A sanitized standard across the entire food distribution system, however, would build in substantial new costs to the food supply that would have a severe negative impact on consumers.”

                Thanks to the Tylenol recalls in 2009 and 2010, wooden pallets have been linked in the public’s mind to food contamination issues in general and to the FSMA. Anti-wood campaigns have described wooden pallets as breeding grounds for bacteria that expose any food product transported on them to chemicals and contamination. However, in its comments, the NWPCA explains how wood is used in and around food and has been for centuries without ill effects.

                “Wood is a natural product that has been used safely in the food industry for centuries,” said McClendon. “Wood has not only evidenced it is a safe, efficient, cost-effective material for pallets, crates and containers used to transport food, but also as an actual component of some food products. Consider for example, the wood sticks used in ice cream bars and popsicles. The wood used is strong, smooth and absent of flavor that might compete with the delicate taste of the frozen food bar...The history and ongoing use of wood as an actual component in food products such as ice cream bars, popsicles and corndogs and as a food utensil, demonstrates it is a sanitary material for use in the food and pharmaceutical industries.”

                The FSMA rule promulgating process has been a slow one, with the FDA missing the original Congress-mandated deadline of July 2012 to complete the rules. This summer, after several public interest groups challenged the FDA’s delay in issuing regulations, a federal court ordered the FDA to publish the remaining proposed FSMA regulations for comment by November 30, 2013; have all public comments submitted by March 31, 2014; and publish final rules by June 30, 2015.

                The FDA will be accepting public comments on the proposed produce rule until November 15, 2013. Comments can be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov under docket number FDA-2011-N-0921.

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