CONTAINER cleanliness has become a growing issue for Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) members, with food grade containers passing depot inspections and then being rejected by Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) authorised officers at packing facilities for failing to meet required standards for food quality shipping containers.
In recent cases, one major grain exporter had 17 of 20 containers rejected in a single booking. Another such incident involved the existence of asbestos in a container. This container was found to have included tape, wood, dust and a fibrous material, before laboratory testing confirmed the existence of asbestos. All appropriate agencies were subsequently notified.
The question must be asked – how has the container park released this as a Food Quality Container with matter still in the container?
While some concerns have been received about grain shippers using general Purpose boxes as food quality containers, in all these instances the shipper has paid for a food quality container.
While the shipping line provided some compensation, the event caused serious disruption to the shipper’s supply chain activities and potentially posed a very serious health risk.
In nearly all cases, the issue seems to be attributable to the quality of container cleaning and container inspection at the empty container parks before the containers are released.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the shipping line to deliver clean containers for export use that meet the standards for food quality shipping containers.
Shipping Australia and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) have previously provided guidance on standards for container cleanliness.
Other examples provided by members include dangerous levels of paint fumes inside the container upon delivery at the packing facility and even one freshly painted container where leftover food matter was painted over.
While exporters are reporting a surge in rejected containers and a drop in overall standards, some importers have claimed that they are being charged more than ever for container cleaning services.
Last week Grain Trade Australia hosted an industry forum on this issue with APSA, Shipping Australia and DAWR representatives.
While this issue has affected the grain industry, similar feedback has been received by dairy and other food interests.
Global developments in container cleanliness standards
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has established a Sea Container Task Force to review potential new procedures under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to ensure that sea containers are free from pests and plant contamination. The Sea Container Task Force is currently considering the introduction of new global mandatory measures, some of which involve increased liability of shippers. The Australian Peak Shippers Association via the Global Shippers Forum (GSF) have been invited to participate in future meetings to ensure that the interests of shippers are being protected.
In parallel to the IPPC initiative, the GSF and the World Shipping Council recently participated in a North American sea container cleanliness initiative by the US and Canadian food and agriculture departments. This initiative has recommended a self-inspection best practice approach as an alternative to the IPPC mandatory approach. This could form an appendix/strengthening of the current global standard for container packing, the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code). Additional guidelines for cleaning containers have also been provided by the World Shipping Council, Container Owner Association and ICHCA.