So expanding a little on a few keys from this guideline:
- Risk analysis - as part of a HACCP or HARPC analysis, what impact would contamination on the containers have. Is the food carried in the containers destined for the processing line or is it RTE. But even if the item is to be processed, contamination by spoilage organisms also needs to be considered.
- Clean - With food items where there is higher risk, whether that be pathogens or spoilage organisms, cleaning is probably necessary. And this is where there may be an issue....cleaning is not easy. Equipment that automatically cleans may be expensive, and doing it manually can be a challenge. But the basics of cleaning for food contact surfaces still apply - remove the solids, clean with an appropriate cleaner, rinse, sanitize, air dry.
- Cover - Once cleaned, that surface can be contaminated if not protected, during both storage and shipping. Storing in a covered storage area or shipping in a closed trailer to prevent those aerial poop bombers (birds) may be necessary. Wrapping in plastic may also be necessary.
- Verify - Is cleaning and protective measures for shipping and storage adequate. Visual observation is important, but microbiological testing can tell if the sanitation process really works. Swab testing for APCs may be enough, but sponge sampling for pathogens may also be needed.
- Usage - traceability is important, so follow the accepted practice for labeling the RPCs.
Reusable Packaging Association
RPA Guidelines and Best Practices for the Safe Use of Returnable Containers in Food Supply Chains
The RPA Guidelines and Best Practices for the Safe Use of Returnable Containers in Food Supply Chains was created by the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) to collectively insure a safe and wholesome food supply chain by users and suppliers of reusable containers. To learn more read RPA Best Practices Guide_FINAL and RPA Guidelines_ FAQs_FINAL