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Research on reusable plastic containers reveals safety issues

New research from the University of Arkansas shows that numerous challenges continue to exist in ensuring the safety of reusable plastic containers


New research from the Center for Food Safety at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Food Science shows that many hurdles still exist when it comes to ensuring reusable plastic containers (RPCs) are clean and lack unsafe microbial contamination.

According to the study, failure of cleaning procedures can lead to spoilage and promulgation of foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella prior to packaging and storing fresh produce, meats and eggs.

Following the results of its independent study conducted in 2014, the Center for Food Safety – under the leadership of Dr. Steven Ricke – went beyond testing of biofilms attachment on multi-use RPCs and conducted a series of four new studies to test sanitizers outlined by the RPC industry in its recently published materials.

To test sterilization, the new study also exceeded concentrations by 1,000 times and doubled exposure times deemed safe for consumable food contact by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and were still unable to achieve recommended levels for sanitization.

This research is unique in that the Center for Food Safety studied RPCs previously used in the distribution stream, according to Ricke. “While we know biofilms cannot be removed with commercial and industrial methods, we wanted to see how many cells of the most common, Salmonella, actually could be removed, if any, by using and exceeding industry and regulatory agencies methods, testing four variances such as chemicals and exposure times,” he says.

After sanitization, the research showed that the number of Salmonella cells remaining on the individual coupons consistently exceeded the 1,000-organism limit expected on clean RPC surfaces.


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