How an RPC Wash Plant Works to Ensure Food Safety

RPC Wash Plant Employs Strict Food Safety Controls

IFCO Systems

A reusable plastic container or RPC wash plant is a facility that provides inspection, repair when necessary, washing, and sanitation of RPCs that are returning empty after being used. Think of a dishwasher, but on a much larger scale, involving a hot wash, rinse, and drying. The use of RPCs for the distribution of fresh produce requires strict attention to food safety, including the ability to fully sanitize them for safe reuse.

IFCO's Portland Wash Plant

IFCO Systems is the North American leader in providing RPCs, operating around 210 locations worldwide and providing a pool of over 170 million RPCs.The company opened its fifth U.S. service center for RPCs in 2011 in Portland, Oregon. This move supported the continued expansion of RPC use by leading grocery retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Walmart, Kroger, Safeway and others. IFCO’s other service centers are located in San Antonio, Texas; Rancho Cucamonga, California; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chicago, Illinois.

After a review of its RPC system in the latter half of 2011, IFCO determined that the ideal location for a new service center to meet its growing market share in the Pacific Northwest would be in Portland, Oregon. The facility was commissioned in November 2011, and opening in mid-January 2012. The 85,000 square foot facility washes over 40,000 RPCs per day, and ships and receives approximately 25-40 truckloads of RPCs daily for IFCO’s grocery retail partners and grower-shipper customers.

All IFCO service centers follow strict food safety and quality assurance protocols based on HACCP requirements, and employ a variety of measures to reduce environmental impact. Case in point, IFCO service centers are all FDA approved and certified by American Institute of Baking (AIB). IFCO maintains a "superior" rating from AIB at all of its North American locations.

Its food safety monitoring program involves outside auditing from AIB, as well as very strict controls internally with regard to processes and monitoring. Swab test sampling is undertaken on an hourly basis. With an established industry threshold level of 250 RLUs (Relative Light Units), sampling results in readings well within the acceptable range of 50 to 150 RLUs.

The Washing Process

The washing process begins with inbound collapsed crates being manually sorted and then fed into the automated washing system. Following a step-by-step rinse, wash, and sanitation cycle, detergents are introduced to aid in the release of any dirt particles, and then followed by the introduction of non-harmful organic sanitizing agents which evaporate during the drying process. A single wash line can wash 100,000 RPCs daily. Some IFCO wash facilities can wash up to 1 million RPCs per day.

Contrary to what one might think, washing actually uses very little water - much less than in the production of cardboard boxes. IFCO currently captures for reuse approximately 75 percent of the water it uses. The move not only makes sense environmentally, but economically as well in terms of being able to use the re-filtered sanitizing agents.

Another recent innovation has helped both environmentally as well as on the bottom line, a new type of centrifugal drying technology that uses much less energy than the previous air tunnel approach, and which provides much more effective drying in the process.

Also,​ key to food safety control is the handling of RPCs within the service center, with strict controls in place to eliminate the possibility of post-sanitization contamination. Washed containers are immediately wrapped in a proprietary green wrap and kept segregated from unwashed incoming units.

IFCO, a Brambles company, also provides pallets in the North American market. If you are interested in finding out more, be sure to take a video tour of IFCO’s RPC service centers and wash process at