Wooden pallets have inherently better hygiene properties than plastic equivalents, making them a more suitable choice for food, drink and pharmaceutical supply chains, according to new research from the Institute for Wood Technology Dresden.

The study, commissioned by EPAL Germany, carried out between February 2018 and December 2019, compared the microbial properties of standard EPAL Euro pallets and H1 plastic pallets.

It found that wooden pallets have an antibacterial activity that is more than thirteen times higher than that of the H1 plastics and bacteria had a lower survival rate on the wooden surface compared with plastic. It showed clearly that the rough sections caused by wear on the surface of plastic pallets provide ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria. Meanwhile, the natural antibacterial properties in wood prevent microorganisms from spreading.

The research concluded that wooden pallets are suitable for use in hygiene-sensitive areas – which could include chemicals, food processing and transport.

The pallets in the study were sourced from a dealer in the load carrier sector and had all been used at least once. They were not cleaned before testing and were tested according to certified methods using the germs escherichia coli and staphylococcus aureus.

The conclusion of the tests stated: “Bacteria on wood do not survive as well as on plastic. It can therefore be assumed that in the critical foodstuffs sector, wooden pallets can be used. However, this does still require – as it does for plastic pallets – strict compliance with hygiene regulations during the production, transport and storage of foodstuffs and continuous monitoring of the pallet quality as well as regular cleaning.”

The tests also proved that with the correct cleaning bacteria and fungi on wooden pallets can be removed effectively – contrary to claims that have been made by plastic pallet producers.

The findings of this latest study add to previous research, including the 2016 report by Aviat et al, which reviewed 86 publications to ascertain whether contact between wood and food is safe. This concluded that wood is suitable because its often-rough surface and porous structure often creates conditions that are unfavourable to microorganisms.

Other studies carried out on behalf of EPAL include intensive practical trials on its CP pallets at the Dortmund-based Material Flow and Logistics IML packaging lab, the Fraunhofer Institute. The tests demonstrated these pallets’ suitability for use with bagged goods and drums and conformity to complex requirements of the chemical industry for high-quality wooden load carriers.

EPAL wooden pallets specifically are kiln dried so they are ISPM15 compliant as standard – and can therefore be used whatever Brexit scenario occurs at the end of this year. Other benefits of using EPAL pallets are that they are safe for loads of up to 1.25 tonnes; the kiln drying gives them extra strength and durability; and they are specified ‘as new’ whenever they are repaired.

To see the results of the study, go to: https://www.epal-pallets.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ntg_package/images/Hygienestudy/EPAL_Germany_Hygiene_Study_GB.pdf