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Wood pallets cited as cause for McNeil’s Tylenol recall

Wood pallets have been blamed for the recent product recall, but sources agree that more information is needed
By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
April 01, 2010

Put it in writing

The FDA has sent an official warning letter to Peter Luther, president of McNeil Consumer Healthcare’s North American over-the-counter business, which synopsizes the situation and outlines a timeline for corrective action. The letter points out that contamination was first noted in 2008, occurred again in 2009, and ultimately led to the December recalls. The FDA told McNeil it is not satisfied with the company’s follow up measures and concluded that a timely, comprehensive investigation was not conducted.

The FDA isn’t the only group writing to Luther. Bruce Scholnick, NWPCA president and CEO, not only wrote to Luther demanding “credible technical evidence of its claims,” he sent the same letter to William Weldon, board chair and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, and copied Maridalia Torres at the FDA in Puerto Rico, Nuria Ramirez Ordonez, general manager of McNeil in Puerto Rico, and McNeil’s general council.

This issue is causing real heart burn for the wood pallet industry, Scholnick told Modern. “The FDA is investigating, but J&J is still saying the problem is coming from the wood. They’re denigrating our industry by making an assumption that is not clearly validated.”

“It’s extraordinarily difficult to know the exact source of the problem,” he said. “While it could have been on the wood, it’s possible that it could have been on the corrugate, on a person or even on the equipment handling the pallet.”

“The obvious recommendation is that a thorough investigation be conducted to identify the source of problem,” White concurred. “Any conclusion drawn at this time would be purely speculation.”

In an effort to reassure customers, a statement of quality assurance has been released by CHEP (http://www.chep.com), a provider of reusable shipping pallets, to its customers regarding the safety of its products. It reads in part: “CHEP has an obligation to design and maintain strict and comprehensive quality control procedures for our platforms, which are classified as tertiary packaging. We believe our processes meet the most exacting standards for control and assurance, for everything from raw material to pallet repair and recycling, and we invite our customers to evaluate these processes for themselves.”

PECO Pallets (http://www.peco.com), which provides pallet pooling services to the food and consumer goods manufacturing industry, also issued a statement assuring customers that its wood pallets are safe. It can be read in its entirety on the PECO Web site.

Pallets in perspective

While any product recall is serious business, Mike Tebay, chief strategic officer for PECO Pallets, put this situation in perspective from his own point of view. He said he doesn’t believe this is a wood pallet industry issue, but that it’s an offshore issue. Like drugs coming from Puerto Rico or toys coming from China, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure safety and compliance in every link of their supply chain.

“There are more than a billion pallets in circulation at any given time in the United States, of which about 95% are made of wood,” Tebay said. “Given the fact that almost everything that moves moves on a pallet, virtually everything we eat or use has been transported on a pallet at some stage in its supply chain. Yet when was the last time that one heard of a product recall that was, or might have been, attributed to a wood pallet? This is just one isolated situation. And it is not an American wood pallet industry problem, this is an offshore problem.”

According Scholnick, this is an isolated incident and the only circumstance is he aware of where pallets have been blamed for a recall. Additionally, no conclusive evidence has been provided to date that proves pallets are to blame.

About the Author

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Lorie King Rogers
Associate Editor

Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.


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