Two recent studies on reusable produce containers found 38 percent and then 43 percent of the containers used to ship produce in the United Stated were contaminated. The produce industry has been moving away from corrugated boxes for shipping produce to reduce environmental impact. Most of the re-usable produce crates are shipped back to the manufacturer to clean and sanitize before sending to another farm for use. And still, these two studies found many containers unclean and contaminated, right out of the place they were supposed to be cleaned.

In wholesale and retail seafood, reused shipping containers are common. What if someone did a study on the how clean our reused seafood containers are? Would we fare any better than produce? Probably not. There are no systems in place for manufacturers to clean containers. It is up to each retail fish market manager, back of house manager, processor, and wholesale operations manager to make sure there is a process to clean and sanitize reusable containers.

Cleaning and sanitizing small plastic snap top fillet containers, scallop tins, or shucked oyster buckets is probably easier than cleaning large lugs and shipping totes. Small containers can run through a commercial dishwasher, or be cleaned in a 3 compartment sink set up to wash, rinse, and sanitize. But even then, is that happening as it should? Washing large lugs and shipping vats is a big challenge. And just rinsing them out does not do the trick. Even using a power washer does not sanitize. The same wash, rinse, and sanitize procedure has to happen without the help of a three compartment sink. Take a look at your reusable containers today. Do you have a system in place, to properly clean the containers? If not, what are you doing about it?

The FDA Food Code 2013, chapter 4-6 and 4-7 spell out how food contact containers must be cleaned and sanitized. Check the instruction on your sanitizeer for exact procedures, but it usually goes like this:

  • Wash in hot water of 110 degree F or hotter with a good detergent.
  • Rinse in clean hot water to remove cleaners and abrasives.
  • Sanitize in warm water for 1 minute.
  • Air dry so the sanitizer gets to keep working. Do not towel dry or rinse after sanitizing.

The health of our customers and our businesses depend on it.


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