Yes, even wooden shipping pallets.  These days, it seems that nothing is immune from being linked to an outbreak of foodborne disease.  Spinach, lettuce, sprouts, peanut butter, cookie dough, pizza, shellfish . . . everything.  And now, a pharmaceutical recall highlights the potential risks posed by something as seemingly innocuous as wooden shipping pallets. 

This news comes in the midst of a recall, by McNiel Consumer Healthcare, of Tylenol arthritis pain caplets that were shipped on wooden pallets treated with a chemical known to cause potentially severe gastrointestinal symptoms.  But this particular Tylenol recall highlights the broader problem of potential bacterial or viral contamination of products during the shipping process.  On December 16, 2009, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems announced that,

a random sampling of wood pallets used to ship food in Portland, ME, and Philadelphia, PA, numerous pallets tested positive for Listeria and abnormally high counts of bacteria that could potentially create health hazards for consumers. The new data bolster the findings of previous wood pallet testing conducted in the Washington-Baltimore area, further illustrating the unsanitary conditions and unacceptable risks to our nation’s food supply from wood pallets.

"How much more evidence does Congress and the FDA need?," Bob Moore, IGPS Chairman and CEO asked in an article on PR Newswire.  "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," 

"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."

Well said.  The risks are clear, particularly for the select few (actually, pretty much all of us) who participate in an integrated, international food supply.  And even for locavores who would rather not rely on the spotty food safety records of foreign producers, the food still has to be shipped a certain distance.  Odds are, there’s a wooden pallet somewhere in the chain.