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Safruitjournal Safj Cri Penicillium
October / November 2021

Fungal degradation of wooden pallets in citrus export

SA Fruit Journal: October / November 2021

Not only do fungi wreak havoc with fruit quality and shelf life, they also eat away at the wooden pallets on which cartons of fruit are transported. A recent study has uncovered several solutions. By Dr Wilma du Plooy, CRI (PHI-08)

What hides in the woodwork?

Every day, between 1.9 and two billion pallet bases are used for various purposes around the world, including the transportation of fresh fruit. In 2020, South African fresh fruit exports used about 3.5 million pallet bases, with citrus exports accounting for about two million. The rest was used to deliver pome and stone fruit, and table grapes to international consumers.

Pallet bases are mostly made of pine and are susceptible to degradation. The situation is particularly worrisome in terms of SA’s distant export markets, such as the Far East and Canada. About 21% of export citrus finds its way to markets in these far-off regions. Given the long periods that fruit spends in transit, there is enough time for fungal contamination to develop on the pine slats and corner blocks of pallet bases. In severe cases, incidental fungal growth develops on the cartons at the bottom of the stacks. This soils the packaging and weakens both the wood and cardboard structure. Apart from unacceptable aesthetics, this incidence poses a phytosanitary risk.

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