The expanded recall of TYLENOL Arthritis pain reliever is fresh evidence of the need for Congress and the FDA to regulate wood pallets used to transport food and pharmaceuticals in the United States because of the dangers they pose to human health.
The move earlier this week by McNeil Consumer Healthcare and FDA to expand the voluntary recall to include all lots of TYLENOL Arthritis Pain Caplet 100 count bottles comes on the heels of independent scientific studies showing wood pallets harbor deadly food poisoning bacteria and pathogens.
"How much more evidence does Congress and the FDA need? The TYLENOL recall proves wooden pallet shipping platforms are a dangerous threat to the pharmaceuticals we depend on, while recent independent studies we've commissioned in four cities demonstrate the dangers they pose to our food supply," said Bob Moore, Chairman & CEO, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC).
"The one to two billion wood pallets in circulation in the United States are the common denominator in the supply chain - practically every product we ingest is shipped on a wood pallet. Congress and FDA cannot afford to overlook them any longer as they consider ways to strengthen our national food safety law."
Chemicals used to treat wood pallets were cited as causing a moldy, musty or mildew-like odor in the TYLENOL product that caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain in consumers. Wood pallets made with "engineered wood" components also contain urea formaldehyde - a known carcinogen - which may come into contact with food under a variety of scenarios when it is stored and shipped on wooden pallets. Formaldehyde is also released into the air when it off-gases from pallets in storage and transportation compartments, posing a risk to the health of workers and consumers.
Wood pallets pose other dangerous risks to food safety. Wood pallets are susceptible to insect infestation and require heat treatment or fumigation before they can be moved cross-border. Fumigation is often performed with methyl bromide, a highly toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. Rusty nails and wood shards that can penetrate food packaging are also a risk.
Recent tests commissioned by iGPS have found Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and extremely high bacteria counts on scores of wood pallets pulled at random from pallet depots in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Portland, ME. Listeriosis is responsible for approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States annually and is the leading cause of death among food borne bacterial pathogens, with fatality rates exceeding even Salmonella and Clostridium Botulinum.
The iGPS test results are consistent with similar findings by USDA and FDA. A new USDA study found salmonella-causing bacteria can be harbored on wooden shelving carts used for transporting eggs into processing plants. The FDA has also drawn attention to the health risks that wood pallets present. According to the FDA's Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Refrigerated or Frozen Ready-To-Eat Foods (February, 2008), "In areas where RF-RTE [refrigerated-ready to eat] foods are processed or exposed, we recommend that you use pallets that can be easily cleaned and keep them in good condition, and that you not use wood pallets in areas where RF-RTE foods are processed or exposed or in other areas for wet processing and storage."
A trip to virtually any wood pallet depot reveals thousands of wood pallets stacked outdoors, sitting in mud and water-logged (some even serving as nests for rodents) -- a clear violation of industry "best practices" calling for wood pallets to be stored in dry indoor locations.
"This is an industry that openly ignores its own safety rules and transports our food supply on deplorably unsanitary platforms," said Moore. "We call on Congress and the FDA to take a comprehensive look at the role wood pallets play in contaminating our food and drug supplies - and to take action."