Many retailers who are experienced in reusable containers educate and train employees down to the store level on the proper handling techniques and requirements. Retailers understand that effective and timely handling of reusable containers contributes to the whole cycle of performance, which benefits the retail operations and ultimately leads to greater customer satisfaction. Suppliers of reusable packaging often assist in this training by providing poster instructions for display in store backrooms.
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The RPA guidelines document the best practices at retail. A significant component of the recommendations addresses practices to limit preventable contamination of used containers. Employees of retail stores should remove any trash from the used containers and fold them following their use. When storing used containers, retailers should reserve a single pallet footprint in the backroom where the containers can be stacked in a uniform and interlocking manner. The containers should be stored in a secured area where they are free from tampering as well as exposure from accidental contaminants.
Another important area for proper handling at retail is the compliance to labeling of the containers. As the use of adhesive labels has become more prevalent in the supply chain, the RPA created a task force to test and establish standards for adhesive labels with the goals of improving food safety, minimizing damage to the container and wash equipment, reducing the cost of labels and residue removal, and increasing label removal quality and efficiency. It is recommended that no additional labels or stickers are added to the containers beyond the legal product label that was affixed at time of packing and accompanies the container through the entire supply chain.
Once the containers have been used, folded, and stacked on the pallet for return, the single pallet should be filled and wrapped tightly when the total height reaches 72 inches, or a height designated by the RPC provider, to maximize loading and transport efficiency. Any broken containers should be separated and stacked on a separate pallet and marked as broken.
Retailers should notify their container provider when they have more than one pallet ready for return. Many retailers have scheduled weekly pickups. Regular store pickups and relocation of the reusable packaging to points of collection by the container suppliers will ensure timely and effective reuse. Also, all used containers need to be returned to the provider for sanitation—they should never be reused at the retail store.
Guidelines for Reusable Packaging Suppliers
The reusable packaging industry in North America follows rigorous cleaning and testing methods and deploys advanced industrial washing operations that meet or exceed regulations established by U.S. and Canadian government agencies, where applicable. Commercial cleaning operations involve multifaceted steps and techniques in preparing a container for reuse. Factors such as heat, detergents and sanitizers, water pressure, and the time and sequence in which they occur, play a critical role in cleaning.
RPA’s guidelines are extensive for suppliers of reusable packaging. The most detailed and numerous guidelines affect suppliers who also provide the cleaning service. Critical control points in the wash process are temperature control and chemical concentration of the cleaning and sanitizing agents. The wash process should follow GMPs. These GMPs cover equipment, utensils, water, plumbing, waste, and physical facilities. When combined with proper employee hygiene and food defense practices, these GMPs form the core of a sound RPC wash operation.
One of the more noteworthy best practices is the adoption of a comprehensive microbiological sanitation and testing regime that covers human and plant pathogens in all aspects. This includes digitally dosing and controlling detergents and sanitizers. Thresholds and parts per million (ppm) should strictly follow chemical manufacturer guidelines for food and food contact materials. Redundant electronic and manual processes should ensure these parameters are always correct.