The National Consumers League (NCL) is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish minimum sanitary and safety standards for the "unregulated but crucial" pallets that are used to transport food throughout the United States.
Why? Because for awhile now, there have been growing concerns about the link between pallets and contamination of food and pharmaceuticals, and recently the NCL tested pallets for foodborne pathogens, including E. coli and Listeria.
The results of these tests were alarming. Of the 140 pallets (70 wood and 70 plastic) tested:
10 percent of the wood pallets tested had E. coli present (though not the most virulent strain, E. coli O157:H7).
2.9 percent of the wood pallets tested positive for Listeria, and half of these, when further tested, contained Listeria monocytogenes, one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens.
Of the 70 plastic pallets tested, one or 1.4 percent came back positive for E. coli. None of the other plastic pallets tested positive for pathogens.
High aerobic plate counts, which reflect unsanitary conditions of the pallets, were found on approximately one third of the wood pallets and one fifth of the plastic pallets
"We believe it is essential to ensure that pathogens are not introduced at any step along the food transport system, from farm to fork. Our testing of pallets has shown that these relatively unregulated but crucial parts of the food transportation system can and do harbor dangerous pathogens that could potentially contaminate the food supply," says Sally Greenberg, the League's Executive Director.
NCL wants the FDA to do its own testing and set standards that will help to ensure that pallets are cleaned and stored properly. That will help minimize the possibility that pallets will be implicated in the spread of foodborne illness, the NCL says.