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Crates for fish and seafood

In the marketing chain for fresh fish in Europe, from the boat to the store, common systems and representative containers for handling and transport are made from wood (poplar and pine), plastic (eg . HDPE) or expanded polystyrene.

Wood packaging have numerous commercial, sanitary and environmental advantages.

For reasons of hygiene and material characteristics, wooden boxes and expanded polystyrene ones are considered single-use, while plastic boxes are considered reusable and they must be sanitized after each circuit.

In November 2014, the research team of Dr. José Juan Rodríguez Jerez, expert in microbiological analysis of surfaces and evaluation of biofilms and professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, concluded a comparative assessment of microbiological behavior of containers for fresh fish in the market, offering the following conclusions:  

  • Wood has antimicrobial properties.
  • The wooden container is the one with less contamination after contact with fish.
  • The materials studied do not affect the quality or safety of the fish, provided that only one first use is done.
  • No unhygienic implications of wood compared to plastic materials studied



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Recent research in France coincide.

The research consortium "EMABOIS" directed by researchers Aviat and Federighi, led in 2015 to several doctoral dissertations and scientific articles with conclusions in line with the work of José Juan Rodríguez Jerez from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. 

The results of this project, composed by various authorities of French research as: Actalia, ESB, ESI Reims, FCBA and ONIRIS, who also validated methods and specific protocols for microbiological and chemical analysis of wood, confirm the microbiological and chemical safety of wood surfaces, particularly in the study in contact with fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy products.

Above all, this project promoted by the French sector of the wooden packaging and pallets with the support of GROW International, shows once again, as other research in recent years, higher antimicrobial effect of wood by physical inhibition in various scenarios, in spruce, pine and poplar. Thus concluding that its porosity is an advantage in this regard against other food contact materials considered as "smooth".

More information about the antimicrobial effect.

Also, the research concludes that the eventual migration of natural wood molecules, particularly volatile organic compounds, is safe for the consumer. In fact, the study identifies harmless substances in the international legal framework and the scientific literature, which are even used in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry as thickeners, flavorings or natural dyes.

More information about migration


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In accordance with the Commission Regulation (EC) No.2023/2006 of 22 December 2006, on good manufacturing practices for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, the guide describes the system of Good Hygiene and Manufacturing Practices (referred to as GHMP from now on) that can be applied voluntarily by all industries represented by FEDEMCO.

This guide covers general guidelines on GHMP using systems that guarantee and control quality and hygiene (and the documentation of these systems), in addition to specific regulations adapted to the industries represented by FEDEMCO.

It is important to emphasise that the criteria mentioned in this guide is considered good practice for a heterogeneous group of industry profiles within the chain of value represented by FEDEMCO. For this reason, this guide does not try to value the relative importance of each one, but gives a global evaluation of the compliance of each type of industry.

Nevertheless, the guide could inspire or evolve towards a declaration of compliance system that does establish a simple classification of criteria according to different profiles, for example, criteria that is compulsory, recommended or simply a guideline.

Furthermore, evolution of this guide is possible and depends on the technical, scientific and organisational progress of the sector, industries, materials, processes, etc. It does not intend to substitute any regulations or legislation directly required from the industries, but give an added value to the practices of the sector.

The GHMP include ways to ensure quality and hygiene, in order to guarantee that materials and articles are manufactured, controlled and delivered according to prevailing regulations and guidelines on quality and hygiene appropriate for their intended use. This means the materials and articles do not pose a danger for human health and do not alter the composition or the organoleptic characteristics of the food in any way, in response to the requirements of packers, distributors, consumers and the administration.

"FEDEMCO-GMP" , new certification scheme of good practice in wood packaging

FEDEMCO launches the "FEDEMCO-GMP" scheme, which will allow certification on good manufacturing and hygiene practices to its member companies.
The system is the result of collaboration with BUREAU VERITAS and has been developed from the " FEDEMCO’s Guide to Good Manufacturing and Hygiene Practices” published last year. The scheme "FEDEMCO-GMP" is therefore created to evaluate and rate the performance on the management of food safety among manufacturers of wood packaging and their components in contact with food, according to the requirements of the Guide.
To achieve that, FEDEMCO has signed a collaboration agreement with BUREAU VERITAS, as the reference certification body of the scheme, with which forms the Certification Committee. That will ensure the proper implementation of procedures and operation of the scheme.
"FEDEMCO-GMP" is also open to the fact that member companies may also be audited by other certification bodies, provided these meet the licensing requirements and qualifications set forth in the General Regulations. Thus, firms once audited, and after the certification decision by the said Committee, may continue to offer the food conformity to their customers, but now with the guarantee of an outside third party.
"FEDEMCO-GMP" also includes the creation of an Advisory Technical Committee, comprised of experts within the system and others from the food chain.
At the moment the new scheme has been developed according to a General Regulation laying down the procedures for granting, renewing, or withdrawing certification.
Moreover, the scheme also includes Audit Checklist that covers not only general but also production, facilities, personnel and specific requirements that must be met by member companies. Regulation and Manual Use of the Mark is available as well.
This initiative is a project funded by the ERDF, within the ERDF Operational Programme 2007-2013 in the Valencian Community, managed by the IMPIVA (Generalitat Valenciana).


Wood in contact with food

What foods are packed in wood?

Wood packaging is used to pack, transport, handle, preserve, present and give and added value to the following food products and sectors:

  • Fruit and vegetable
  • Fish and sea food
  • Wines and spirits 
  • Oils 
  • Cheese and dairy 
  • Meat and conditioned meat 
  • Bread and bakery 
  • Dried fruits


Wood in contact with food

Tradition v. prejudices

Wood is a complex natural material and therefore can interact with food, like any other material for packaging. However, history (and now modern research) shows us that this does not cause problems. Wood in contact with food is traditionally used not only in single-use packages or reusable packaging but also in cutting boards and countertops, utensils and kitchen utensils, kebab skewers, toothpicks, ice pops, wine barrels and more. If we use all these items without trouble, we can do it in packaging, too.

Wood can be perceived as a less suitable material for single-use containers compared with those made of smooth materials. However, comparative studies refute this fact. Wood has even considered more difficult to clean when used for refillable and reusable containers; but effective sanitation protocols have been developed and make it extremely viable.

There is no perfect material for every situation. It is important to know the intrinsic qualities of each material and its suitability for use given factors which include: the type of foods, surface and contact time, and operating conditions such as temperature and humidity. 


Wood in contact with food

Species of wood

There is a wide range of wood species and the most commonly used are from continental origin: poplar, pine, spruce, beech, ash, oak, etc. 

  French law has a regulation in 1945, updated in 1980, which includes a positive list of timber species suitable for food contact. Most is hardwood (no conifers), except pine, which was also included as it is used extensively without danger.  

  The following woods are accepted for contact with all food types: birch, fir, Douglas fir, acacia, poplar, alder, aspen, hornbeam, chestnut, ash, olive trees, maritime pine, Scots pine, bananas (sycamore), and oak. Solid foods are restricted to the poplar, beech, walnut and elm.  

  There is lack of references to the authorization of resinous and tropical woods. Not withstanding the use of properly cured softwood without health problems for years. Fruit and vegetable pallet boxes or tables to cure cheese are good examples. 

  In the Nordic countries pine and spruce are traditionally used in contact with fish, meat and dairy products, and Denmark has produced most of ice cream popsicles or sticks that we have used.  

  In the United States wooden and kitchen utensils are manufactured with coconut, cherry, mahogany, poplar, walnut, teak, maple, oak, mulberry, pear, elm, apple, yew, etc.. And cutting boards with ash, balsa, basswood, beech, birch, walnut, maple, etc.  

  Fir, willow, beech or birch with basswood and alder, in good condition, is considered  adequate even for fatty foods. In this case it is important to use dry wood.


Wood in contact with food

International references

France, a paradigm of developed country and renowned for its food traditions, exist in the period between 1974 and 1994 numerous references, wich regulate the use of wood in contact with fruits and vegetables,and also allow direct contact at: meals, products fish and dairy products as well as indirect contact with meat products sector in brine, salted, smoked or matured and elements of handling and cold storage.

In the U.S. in a non-binding guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)refers to the suitability of wood cutting boards, utensils and kitchen utensils and oven, packs of fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc..

Scientific support

As is the case today with most materials, there is a significant deficiency of legislation and methods for characterization of food contact material when compared with plastic. This is mainly due to the safety of wood and food security priorities of the European Union.

However, there are many studies on the hygienic properties of wood, which confirm that wood is as good as other materials for use in the food industry, either on pallets, packages or containers.

Various characterizations of wood cutting boards, countertops, pallets, etc. highlight its bactericidal effect by "physical inhibition”, although experts believe the need for greater harmonization of the methodologies used.

According to the compilation of wood scientific studies conducted by Schönwälder (2002) and Milling (2005), they find that the negative trend on the qualities of wood in contact with food is reversed along the 90s, when an increased research in favour of wood result from the progress of evaluation techniques and better understanding of phenomena related to food contact materials.


Wood in contact with food

Chemical safety

The wood in contact with food is regulated so that should not be treated with chemicals for preservation or phytosanitary treatment. In some cases in wood packaging manufacture it only suffers a final drying process (reduction of moisture content below 20%).

On the other hand, in wood packaging is not common the use of special coatings. This is more common in household and kitchen utensils of wood, sometimes using natural coatings allowed to improve their properties (solvents, waxes and oils)

Any way, there is a clear difference between the level of content of certain natural compounds from the timber or its traces, and the level of those that may result from treatment or contamination.


Wood in contact with food

Low risk of migration

Although properties and exchange of wood components in the diet may even be desirable, as active material, for instance in food production such as wines, cheeses, etc., to comply with current legislation wood must not give in to food compounds in an amount likely to pose a risk to human health or alter the composition or the taste of food.

In all packaging materials, it has to be identified the substances with potential for migration, establish acceptable limits, and use a methodology to analyze scientifically the process by relying on some agreed food simulants. This is well covered widely in plastic, a synthetic material with increased risk, but very little in the rest.

In wood, the main substances involved in a potential migration are natural volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and those that can be extracted by liquids. Wood, as a natural material, has been investigated more about extractive substances of wood for their usefulness, having little reference to the identification of natural VOC potential to be transferred to what scientists call the headspace or gas phase.

Recent studies in France proving the safety of wood

According to a study of the engineering schools Ecole Supérieure du Bois - ESB (Nantes) and the Higher School of Packaging - ESIReims (Reims) in EMABois research consortium on thousands of test, molecules from natural material raw wood as sawn poplar and pine, are harmless to the health of the consumer. In fact, the specific migration of volatile compounds from wood are extremely low.

These include sugars, fatty acids, carboxylic compounds and molecules such as glycerol, syringol, méthylpyruvate used in medicine and in the food industry. More specifically, glycerol, which improves the smoothness of the pharmaceutical preparations, the syringol, responsible for the "smoked" flavor, and the volatile phenol Methyl-pyruvate, which is a dye used in pharmacy and agrochemistry.

Specific Migration Studies identifying 146 harmless volatile molecules from poplar and pine of which 42 molecules are common. That is to say, they are harmless to consumer as they are not carcinogenic or endocrine disruptors, or bioaccumulative molecules or nanomaterials or radioactive substances or pharmacologically active substances.

It has been demonstrated that 4 out of 5 molecules are regulated for the food sector and the rest is present in the consumption sector of spices, cosmetics, etc.

146 of these molecules, 7 chemical families were identified. Thus, it was chosen one molecule per family and the specific migration of 7 molecules was studied. That shows that the maximum Specific Migration observed is 0.7 mg / kg food simulant (Tenax ©) for hexanoic acid (used as a flavoring and food without specific migration limit) which is synonymous of a negligible migration.

The research also found that when wood-food contact at 4 ° C and 23 ° C, the temperature does not significantly influence the Global Migration, and that the moisture content of the wood, it is dry (13 %) or wet (36%) does not influence the Global Migration.

For this study three food simulants replacing real food were used, such as the simulator A: Ethanol 10% for aqueous food simulant D: Ethanol 95% for fatty foods and the simulator E: © Tenax for dry foods.

The tests were conducted in accordance with contact times from 1 hour to 10 days reflecting conditions encountered in the field.


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Previous studies on migration

Greenaway et al. studied the migration of volatiles from poplar container to fruits, vegetables, poultry and cheese, identifying polyphenols fenilaldehydes and ketones.

Mousavi developed a mathematical model to predict migration from wooden forms with spherical and cylindrical through gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, and experimental validation of volatile compound with benzaldehyde as marker. He concluded that the model, in the absence of published scientific data, would be useful to legislate the food contact material.

Mousavi concludes "After this study, we conclude that the above timber volatile substance is susceptible of migrating to food. However, its low concentration mass (between 0.5 and 17 mg / g in the poplar veneer) in packaged food, its form and its diffusion coefficient greatly reduce the risk of poisoning. Moreover, the drying of wood before use reduces further the concentration of pollutants.

Waymel also concluded in the toxicological suitability of different pine species for food contact based on an assessment after record and study the migration of alpha-pinene, the principal monoterpene of wood, along with other compounds such as beta-pinene, 3 carene, camphene, myrcene and limonene.


Wood in contact with food

Porosity, more pros than cons

The wood structure is complex, and yes, mostly porous. Capillary properties and ability to retain moisture in the fibers (hygroscopic), far from being a problem, impart desirable properties. It is well worth its freshness and storage capacity, but people are often unaware of their positive antibacterial effect.

Unfortunately, as a questionable precautionary principle, the exclusion of timber in the food sector, replacing it with smooth material, is not usually based on scientific evidence but simply on popular prejudice from decision makers that ignore their good behaviour under sanitary conditions.

The biofilm on " impermeable" material

A smooth and impermeable material apparently is not the “panacea” of hygiene, especially in reusable containers, for wear and tear with some bacteria tend to adhere to hard surfaces, multiply and produce extracellular polymeric substances, called "biofilm"

Bacteria trapped in the "biofilm" can be well protected from active compounds used for cleaning, especially in the presence of fatty deposits. The pathogens are of particular concern, since the biofilm may facilitate its spread on surfaces and their transfer to the product packaging.
Several studies have shown that these cells appear to be more resistant to disinfectants (Schwach & Zottola, 1984, Frank and Koffi, 1990; Wirtanen and Mattila-Sandholm, 1992a, b).

Low biohazard

In food there are several possible sources of contamination as well as vectors (contact, diffusion, etc.). Bacteria and fungi are among the biological ones.

As with any other material temperature and specific humidity conditions are important as they determine the viability of the medium on the proliferation of contaminants. This aspect is directly related to the absorption capacity of wood and the drying effect. The bacteria, according to Schönwälder et al in 2002, are more sensitive than fungi to this effect. Despite a lack of consensus on the methodology, there are numerous studies on microbial contamination in terms of cross contamination, especially with cutting boards comparing different species of wood (ash, linden, beech, walnut, birch, cherry, balsa, maple, oak, etc.) with polypropylene or polyethylene, stainless steel or ceramics.
Different studies on bacteria and different wood surfaces behave identically about pollution, whatever type of wood. Differentiation of wood versus other materials is based on its porous structure, and the physical inhibitory effect of capillarity and moisture.


Wood in contact with food

Recent studies in France reconfirm the antimicrobial properties

Technical institutes ACTALIA and FCBA and veterinary and agribusiness school ONIRIS (Nantes) conducted a Microbiology study on wood for food contact culminated in 2015 by the EMAbois research consortium.

This study confirms the hygienic safety of raw wood surfaces for food contact

In fact, after inoculation of the wood occurs a drastic reduction in the number of microorganisms taken from the timber after 24 hours of contact with the poplar, pine and spruce

  Percentage of microorganisms in the wood after24 hours of contact


After 24 hours of contact with the wood, the microbial population is divided by 20 or even 200!. Indeed, the drastic reduction of the microbial population after 24 hours of contact with the wooden surface leads to different conclusions:

  • The porosity of the wood material would be an advantage in hygiene since this area "entraps" microorganisms and thus prevents their survival and multiplication.
  • The wood anatomy thanks to its hygroscopic properties would result in a drying out of the microorganism coupled with the absence of nutrient intake during 24 hours.

According to another study, 99% of microorganisms inoculated on the wood do not migrate to the food, dry, aqueous or fat.


 Percentage of transfer of microorganisms from wood to the food


This is a consequence of the drying phenomenon suffered by the microorganisms on the wooden surface that prevents the survival and multiplication of the microorganisms as has already been demonstrated in the case of spruce vis-à-vis of Listeria monocytogenes (Mariani, Oulahal et al. 2011) and for poplar vis-à-vis of certain bacteria (Revol-Junelles, Miguindou-Mabiala et al. 2005).

In addition, the moisture content of the wood and the nature of the food does not influence the microbiological migration form the wood to the food.

Furthermore, regardless of the type of wood, the transfer of microorganisms from the wood to the food is lower than the glass and lower than that of plastic.


 Transfer of microorganisms. Comparison of three surfaces: glass, plastic and wood.


Thus, we can no longer oppose the wood material's non-hygienic character since it has the smallest microorganisms transfer rate.


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Porosity, key in the antibacterial effect

The rapid disappearance of surface contamination in the timber poses a lesser risk of cross contamination to other non-porous surfaces such as plastics. The porosity of the wood is not a source of microcavities and roughness conducive to the growth of bacteria, as would occur with non-porous materials. In fact, some researchers (Gilbert & Watson, 1971, Ak et al. 1994b; Abrishami et al., 1994) have concluded that the shredded plastic surfaces are harder to clean.

Schönwälder et al in 2002, and Friedrich et al in 2007, concluded in the possibility that bacteria are transferred into the timber by absorption with no evidence of a subsequent release. Moore et al in 2007, refers to a reduction of pollution or proliferation in porous media versus those smooth or nonporous material.

The wood packaging for single use and dry (with a moisture content less than 20%) is not conducive to the propagation or survival of micro-organisms (Ak et al. 1994a, 1994b; Abrishami et al. 1994; Revol-Junelles et al. 2005). Moreover, according to Abrishami et al., 1994 wet wood surfaces have a behavior similar to plastic surfaces, despite the are less absorbent than dry surfaces. Ak also concluded that plastic tables could not be considered more hygienic than wood.

Abrishami et al. (1994) showed that 88% of new cells inoculation in dry wood were attached after 10 min. In fact, it was seen by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) that many bacteria are associated with the dry regions of the cytoplasm of structural and vegetative tissue of the xylem (woody part of the timber).

Despite the fact that timber is questioned in meat processing, meat industry defends the use of wood as a cutting surface and preparation of its products.

In fact, Cliver, based on their own investigations and epidemiological evidence, and other partners, concluded that the boards were better than plastic or glass. It was based on data from a case study on Salmonella revealed that those using wooden planks in the kitchen are less than half as likely to contract the disease than those who use plastic or glass.

Cliver concluded that the bactericidal effect of the wood could be a combination of grip and the drying effect on cells.

Chiu et al, Schönwälder et al, Moore et al, Gough et al, and Milling et al, aslo concluded that: the wood surface leads to decreased proliferation of inoculated pollutants than other surfaces, and reduces the survival time of bacteria in wood. This is more evident the higher the pollution in amount and duration is. Schönwälder et al in 2002 concluded that these properties are independent of the age of the wood.

The Danish Technological Institute (, leading a broader joint research with research institutes in Nordic, German and Switzerland, inoculated bacteria similar to Salmonella Listeria.en Camphylobacter in different species of wood (oak, pine, Nordic fir , beech and ash) in cutting boards, pallets, containers of fish and food packaging, comparatively with plastic and steel, concluding in a superior bactericidal effect of the first.

This study also highlighted special health qualities of pine, not only for its porosity, but for its antibacterial extracts.

Further investigations proved the survival of selected bacteria (Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens) which are commonly found in meat, in different conditions in the industry. They were tested on brushed beech, oak and ash, as well as untreated pine and fir wood packaging, with reference to plastic and stainless steel.

The study concluded that the wood reduces the bacterial concentration before plastic and steel, and that wood species behave differentially; oak has better performance than the beech or ash, and Scotch pine is better than the fir

Bactericidal effect

According to Schönwälder et al in 2002 and Milling et al in 2005, the wood structure is not the only criterion of differentiation in their response to pollution, since the presence of certain molecules and the chemical composition, are even more than a factor in this differentiation.

For instance, Scots pine show a strong antibacterial power (Välimaa et al in 2007), even higher than other wood and plastic. In spruce, beech and poplar similar properties are observed, and slightly above or equal to polyethylene. This makes it important to consider the combination of the undifferentiated structure of wood next to the antibacterial properties of each species.


Wood in contact with food

Reuse of box-pallets and pallets

The light wood packaging is considered a single-use packaging, although the hygienic unobtrusive reuse of it as transport container is still accepted in several European countries.

Re-use is more widespread in industrial packaging, for example agricultural box pallets, or in pallets where there is no direct contact with food.

In this sense, the Danish Technological Institute (, leading a joint research with Nordic, German and Swiss research institutes, studied the incidence of bacteria on pallets used in 14 food industries (salted fish, meat, dairy, vegetables and bread) on a sample of 15,000 wooden pallets and plastic (polyethylene and high density polyethylene).

The bacterial count on the pallets of different wood species showed to be on average 15% lower than on plastic pallets. The study concluded that wood is a hygienic material because it kills bacteria by offering poorer living conditions than plastic or steel. Similarly, concluded that the cleaning of the pallets with pressurized water also kill bacteria.

A 2008 study at the Faculty of Science and Technology of New University of Lisbon by researchers Fernando Abrantes, Garcia, and Mendes, held at the Food Market in the Region of Lisbon (MARL) concluded that wood is as an hygienic packaging material as plastic, compared to what is popularly believed. The research assessed the microbial contamination through parallel samples of bacterial flora on the surface of boxes of wood (pine) and boxes of plastic (HDPE and PP) containing the same horticultural produce.

They analyzed the most common micro-organisms in plant products, that may contaminate the container, or those resulting from normal handling and storage, such as Enterococci, Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, Pseudomonas and Bacillus cereus.

Having determined the bacterial concentration at different temperatures, it was concluded that no significant differences between the bacterial load of wood and plastic.


Wood in contact with food

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  • Anna-Liisa Välimaa, Ulla Honkalampi-Hämäläinen, Suvi Pietarinen, Stefan Willför, Bjarne Holmbom, Atte von Wright (2007). Antimicrobial and cytotoxic knotwood extracts and related pure compounds and their effects on food-associated microorganisms. International Journal of Food Microbiology, Volume 115, Issue 2, Pages 235-243
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Wood in contact with food