ORLANDO, Fla. (PRNewswire) — Wood pallets used to ship food in the Washington Metropolitan Area tested positive for three types of deadly food poisoning bacteria, raising new concerns about the risks wood pallets pose to the nation's food supply.
The discovery was made in a new test commissioned by Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC), operator of the world's first pallet rental service providing shippers and receivers with all-plastic pallets with embedded RFID tags. iGPS gathered samples from wood pallets located at markets and food retailers in the Washington, DC, and Baltimore areas, and submitted them to an outside scientific laboratory for testing.
In a limited and random sample, over one-third of the pallets tested positive for one or more of Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and extremely high bacteria counts - as much as 6.8 million spores per gram - indicating unsanitary conditions that also could pose a food-safety risk. The pallets tested were included in unsanitary wood pallets videotaped by iGPS, which is making that video available today to the news media.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million food borne illness cases occur every year in the United States. This amounts to one in four Americans becoming ill after eating foods contaminated with such pathogens as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and others. Salmonella bacteria cause at least 40,000 illnesses a year in the U.S., and an estimated 400 deaths, the CDC reports. E. coli is a potentially lethal group of bacteria that every year sickens more than 70,000 Americans. Listeria contributes to the deaths of 500 people annually in the U.S. and 2,500 serious illnesses, according to the CDC. The dangers of E. coli, and how easily it can spread, were made clear in a recent story in The New York Times, which recounts how dance instructor Stephanie Smith was paralyzed and put in a coma for two months after she ate hamburger meat contaminated with a dangerous strain of E. coli.
"These tests support our long-held concerns about wood pallets and the risk they present to America's food supply," said Bob Moore, Chairman and CEO, iGPS. "Consumers need to know that the food they buy may have been sitting on filthy wood pallets containing pathogens. The limited tests we've conducted underscore the need for the FDA to conduct a comprehensive investigation and adopt appropriate measures to mitigate the risks presented by wood pallets. Wood pallets open up the food supply to contamination. Federal authorities need to understand how pervasive that threat is."
Moore went on to note that rusty nails protruding from wood pallets are a significant problem because they can penetrate food packaging, and break off into products. Cargill, the beef producer, found nails in meat ingredients being fed into grinders, according to The New York Times article.
iGPS sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month calling upon the agency to launch a full investigation into the use of wood pallets in connection with the storage and shipment of food. iGPS said the inherently porous nature of wood allows it to easily absorb bacteria and fluids, making the over one billion wood pallets in circulation in the United States a highly conducive breeding ground for harmful bacteria that can contaminate food. The issue of wood pallet safety is particularly timely and relevant as Congress considers new legislation that would require the FDA to create a better system for tracing food in the wake of several high-profile recalls of contaminated food in recent years.
In the test, iGPS collected used, in-circulation wood pallets from food retailers and food markets in the Washington, DC, and Baltimore areas. Using proper handling procedures, the field-testing team gathered the samples and shipped them in refrigerated packages to the Environmental Systems Service (ESS) laboratory in Bedford, VA, for testing. ESS conducts food-safety testing, including pathogen screening and microbiological analysis, for the federal government, corporations and private clients.