Hygiene and Cleanliness Considerations for RPCs

21 June 2022

Hygiene and Cleanliness Considerations for RPCs

Returnable Plastic Crates (RPC) are an integral part in moving produce both domestically and internationally between the different steps of the supply chain. In New Zealand they are predominantly used to transfer produce within domestic supply chains. Disruption to RPC supply or distribution would have a severe impact on fresh produce distribution.

When the Pepino Mosaic Virus incursion of 2020/2021 occurred, Tomatoes New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) began investigating to what extent commercial solutions needed to be supported through biosecurity focused regulatory interventions.

United Fresh, as the pan-industry body for the fresh produce industry in New Zealand, contributed with desk-based research, alongside MPI and Tomatoes New Zealand. The joint objective was to improve understanding of the risks the viruses presented and to find RPC related solutions that addressed the needs of Tomatoes NZ without compromising the needs of other product categories also reliant on RPCs.

Understanding what the common risk factors of RPC hygiene are, enables economies of scale to become a factor, and leads to accelerated learning for the entire industry, as opposed to a sector-by-sector solutions which are not always suitable.

While searching for suitable solutions, assistance from The International Food Crate Organisation (IFCO) was invaluable in understanding the scale of such issue, due to its considerable amount of research undertaken into the risks associated with crate hygiene issues.

The existence of International Commercial Cleaning Standards, such as DIN 10522:2006-01, demonstrates the combined efforts by IFCO and other organisations towards enabling crate users to effectively and efficiently manage RPCs used in the transportation of fresh produce from “farm to plate.”

United Fresh recently released a document that compiles and analyses international research & knowledge on RPCs related to the management of the Pepino Mosaic Virus and Brown Rugose Fruit Virus within the fresh produce industry which includes the following recommendations:

  • Separation of RPCs used for transporting produce to a packhouse from those RPCs used to ship produce to wholesale markets or retail distribution centres, contributes to mitigating the risk of spreading a virus if it is present in a glasshouse.
  • Washing and hygiene monitoring practices should be regularly reviewed to align with what is best practice.
  • Frequent monitoring and testing of the RPC washing process minimises the risk of RPCs becoming a spreading route for pathogens.
  • Growers should consider using a Standard Operating Procedure for maintaining RPC cleanliness prior to use.
  • Adoption of the International Commercial Cleaning Standard for RPCs (DIN 10522:2006-01).

RPCs operating in a closed loop environment on grower properties also need to be cleaned regularly to mitigate phytosanitary risks.

The United Fresh Technical Advisory Group compilation document is available on the United Fresh website, link here.