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Hygienic Plastic Pallets – Now That’s Food for Thought

Jim Hardisty, Managing Director of, explains why plastic pallets are by far the safest option for the food service industry and how new innovations in plastics can help the industry achieve significant cost savings.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it is estimated that up to 5.5 million people in the UK contract foodborne illnesses each year – that’s 1 in 10 people. Pallets play a vitally important role in the food supply chain, transporting almost everything we eat from the farm or packhouse to the supermarket. Until recently, pallets have mostly been overlooked, but new sanitary tests have revealed that certain types of pallets could be harbouring potentially harmful bacteria.

In the United States, the safety of wooden pallets for transporting food has been put in question by the National Consumers League following an examination in which wooden pallets tested positive for foodborne pathogens, including E. coli and Listeria. In May, the National Consumers League examined 140 wooden and plastic pallets stored behind grocery stores. Approximately 33 percent of the wooden pallets showed signs of unsanitary conditions where bacteria could easily grow, 10 percent tested positive for E. coli, which can cause food poisoning, and 2.9 percent tested positive for the potentially deadly bug, Listeria.

The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association maintains that wooden pallets are a safe method for transporting food. There is, however, a much safer and more hygienic alternative to wooden pallets, which is gaining popularity in the food industry – hygienic plastic pallets.

Go hygienic for food transportation

Hygienic plastic pallets are not new to the market. We introduced our first hygienic pallet to our range in 1995. Since then, we have been working closely with IPS, the Belgian pallet manufacturer for whom we are sole distributor in the UK, to enhance the pallet to achieve the optimum hygiene standards. Although other manufacturers have imitated the IPS Hygienic pallet, none have equalled the IPS pallet in quality, which classes our hygienic pallet ‘top of the range’.

Of course, all plastic pallets are ‘hygienic’ when compared to traditional wooden pallets, but for transporting food, there are many advantages for using the IPS Hygienic pallet. The pallet is made from the highest quality food grade virgin or recycled materials and complies with EU safety legislation. It has totally smooth sealed surfaces, unlike wooden pallets, which are susceptible to cross contamination issues caused by mould and dust. It can be easily cleaned both manually or with an automated system, as it doesn’t absorb moisture – even under the most adverse conditions – and is tolerant of weak acids and alkalis. There are no nails, sharp edges or splinters and no risk of loose component parts breaking free under manual lifting conditions and causing injury to operatives.

Nestlé goes hygienic has received orders for the IPS Hygienic pallet from a number of major food manufacturers, including Nestlé UK, who recently ordered a total of 2,350 hygienic pallets for its Dalston factory in Cumbria and Fawdon factory in Newcastle for handling raw materials in pre-production areas. Chocolate giant Cadbury has also ordered 300 hygienic pallets for its manufacturing plant in Kenya.

The IPS Hygienic pallet is available from stock in seven single colour options including beige, blue, black, green, grey, red and white. Businesses ordering in excess of 500 units can have their pallets coloured in any colour of their choice or choose from one of our 84 two-colour options.

Colour code to enhance product identification

Two-colour plastic pallets is a new concept we introduced to the UK earlier this year to help businesses more easily identify their pallets and track them during transit. With approximately 45 million pallets in circulation in the UK, it is inevitable that some pallets get lost in transit, but this number can be significantly reduced by using two-colour plastic pallets. Businesses can colour their pallets in two shades of their choice and to enhance identification, company logos can be moulded into the design or screen-printed on the pallets. To enhance pallet traceability and security, offers both screen-printing and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Plastic pallets in automation

For product innovation, plastic clearly holds the advantage over wood because of its versatility, which stretches far beyond colour coding. In automation, for example, plastic pallets outperform wooden alternatives because of their consistent size and weight. Variances in the dimensions of wooden pallets can cause them to twist and become stuck when used in automated systems, the results of which can be costly.

Keith Washington, Senior Project Development Manager at System Logistics, said: “We have worked with on a number of projects that have involved using plastic pallets in automated systems. The team at is very knowledgeable and takes care in recommending the best pallet to suit each application.”

Innovations beyond pallets

Innovation in plastics doesn’t stop at pallets. New developments in plastic containers are also proving favourable in the food industry, particularly with supermarkets, where more stores are replacing their wood and cardboard boxes with plastic crates.

Folding plastic crates, for instance, are being used for storing perishables in store as their fold-down sides save store workers the hassle of frequently replenishing goods and make it easier for customers to grab products, unlike stacked boxes, which are cumbersome and potentially dangerous to shift. As folding plastic crates fold 90% flat when empty, they also help suppliers cut costs and their carbon footprint as return journey transportation is reduced.

In food packing areas and supermarkets, noise pollution can cause major irritation to staff and sometimes customers.’s latest addition to its GoBox range – the GoBox 2500 CL – offers the perfect solution as its unique latch system collapses the box with virtually no sound.

Save £££ with a returnable transit system

As plastic pallets and containers are reusable, food packers and processors can also achieve cost savings by switching from limited-use single trip packaging to returnable packaging systems. For example, in a closed-loop scenario, with normal handling and loading within design limits, plastic pallets and boxes have a life span of up to ten years or more. This means that plastic pallets and boxes can last up to ten times longer than wooden alternatives, offering an excellent return on investment.

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