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RPCs Require No Greater Fire Safety Measures than Corrugated: Study

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Reusable plastic containers (RPCs) filled with commodities require no additional fire safety measures than when the same products are stored in corrugated containers, according to results of a scientific, quantifiable study released by the Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) here.

"This study proves that plastic containers filled with produce and meat commodities do not pose any additional fire safety concerns than products stored in corrugated containers, removing yet another perceived barrier to the use of reusables," said Jeanie Johnson, executive director, RPCC. "The results of this study are important for our member companies and for customers. Every customer needs to understand the risks associated with everything that moves through their DCs and stores. This study proves that filled RPCs in cold temperature environments - as well as other storage temperatures - are a low fire-risk hazard."

While most standard warehouses use wet pipe sprinkler systems, Johnson explained that many perishable items are warehoused in cold rooms maintained at 34 degrees F or below. Whereas storage areas generally use wet pipe sprinkler systems, cold storage warehouses use dry pipe sprinklers to reduce the chance of water freezing in the sprinkler pipes. The testing results verified that commodities stored in RPCs ranked in Commodity Class I and Commodity Class II, concluding that customers do not have to make special sprinkler provisions.

The tests were carried out by CE Tech, LLC at the Department of Fire Technology at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) over a one-week span. RPCC worked with a retailer, insurance companies, fire risk consultants, and fire testing experts to establish a battery of tests. Ranking and final commodity classifications were determined by calculating four industry standard fire performance parameters for the commodity/RPC systems tested and comparing them to ranking tables.

"The results were quite striking," said Charles J. Lancelot, principal consultant, CE Tech. "They confirmed that when the commodities tested, and their equivalents, are stored in standard reusable plastic containers in the typical arrays used in warehouses, stores, and DCs equipped with fire suppression systems rated for Class II commodities, the RPC-stored commodities will be well within the capabilities of the installed sprinkler system. There will be no measurable risk entailed as compared with the same products stored in corrugated containers."

The RPCC tested produce and meat to better understand the fire risks associated with shipping and storing perishables in plastic containers. It chose lemons and tomatoes in plastic clam shells in RPCs as worst-case produce commodities, and meat grinds in case-ready packaging as a worst-case meat commodity.

Following the testing, the case-ready meat in nestable meat trays was assigned a Class I rating, while lemons in RPCs were assigned a Class II rating. The clamshell-packed tomatoes in RPC's did not even trigger the water suppression system and fell below the ranking tables. This keeps the plastic container offerings in the same classifications range as the sprinkler systems currently used with their corrugated counterparts. Class I is the lowest rating for fire risk; Group A is the highest.

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