Last October, Meijer stores announced a recall of various packaged Meijer-brand produce items due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogene. Similar recalls with other produce brands in recent years make it understandable for consumers to be concerned about the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But a new study sponsored by the corrugated industry confirms corrugated containers used to transport fresh produce are safe and clean. The study involved periodic testing performed to a protocol designed by food safety, microbiology and toxicology experts from the University of California-Davis and Haley & Aldrich. Study results determined that, "Ninety-nine percent of the samples evaluated were well below the sanitation levels of 1000 colony forming units (CFU) per swab for the organisms tested," said Maryann Sanders, Product Stewardship Leader and microbiologist.
The study was conducted as a follow-up to earlier industry‐wide corrugated container cleanliness studies performed in 2014 (initial) and 2016 (annual). The new research examined corrugated containers from various manufacturers, at three separate end-user locations, for the presence of two pathogenic indicator organisms:Enterobacteriaceaeand thermotolerant coliforms.
“The data show continued due diligence on the part of individual manufacturers and the corrugated industry to mitigate potential sources of contamination and provide clean containers,” said Dennis Colley, Executive Director of the Corrugated Packaging Alliance. CPA is a corrugated industry initiative, jointly sponsored by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), AICC – the Independent Packaging Assn., the Fibre Box Assn. (FBA) and TAPPI.
“Corrugated containers are used once before they are recovered for recycling, which eliminates the potential for lingering contamination that can result from multi-use shipping containers. After use, 90% of corrugated containers are returned to the paper mill for recycling, where high temperatures effectively kill any bacteria that may have been transferred from the product," Colley noted.
The 1000 CFU per swab threshold used in the study was defined by Dr. Keith Warriner, a Food Science Professor at the University of Guelph. The U.S. FDA has not established guidelines for allowable microbial levels on packaging or fresh produce, according to the CPA.