Wood has been a traditional material for many applications in the food industry. But today wood is discriminated against in many sectors of the industry – both in utensils, interiors, and buildings as well as in pallets and packaging.
In the case of pallets and packaging it is supposed that plastic pallets are more resistant to dust and mould contamination, and that their smooth, enclosed surfaces remove any possibility of impurities. Research, however, suggests that wooden pallets can be just as hygienic – if not more so – than their plastic rivals.
The latest studies have been carried out in Nordic countries as a Nordic Industrial Fund project ‘Wood in the Food Industry’ and in Germany and Switzerland.
Studies of bacteria have been carried out in the food industry on interiors, buildings and pallets. They studied the incidence of bacteria on pallets used in 14 food industries (salted fish, meat, dairy, vegetables and bread) on a sample of 15,000 wooden and plastic pallets. The study found that the bacterial count on wooden pallets was on average 15% lower than on plastic pallets. This was because wood offered ‘poorer living conditions’ than plastic or steel. Any remaining bacteria on the wood could be killed with pressurised water.
There are many other studies on the hygienic properties of wood. Both recent and previous studies confirm that wood is as good as other materials to use in the food industry – in utensils, interiors, and buildings as well as in pallets and packaging.
- Wood is as hygienic as any other material for most applications in the food industry.
- The porosity of wood doesn’t seem to be a negative factor.
- There are cleaning/sanitising methods suitable for wood.
Like most materials used within the food industry, good manufacturing quality, good handling practice and proper sanitation treatments make wood a suitable material for most applications in the food industries.