There is no evidence of significant food-borne illness outbreak related to the use of wood pallets. In fact, some research suggests that wood pallets are safer than alternatives because contaminants are absorbed into the wood, while non-absorbent material pallets would leave contaminants on the surface of the pallet where they pose a greater risk of cross-contamination.
The Food Safety Modernization Act requires that pallets should not result in the harm of food. It does not require pallets of a particular material when used as tertiary packaging, or that they are sanitized for non-direct food contact applications.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials offers this direction:
All pallets shall be checked. Damaged, contaminated or unacceptable pallets shall be discarded.
Wooden pallets that come into direct contact with finished products or raw materials shall not be allowed to contaminate the product.
Wooden pallets, if used, shall be sound, dry, clean and free from damage and contamination.
Increasingly, pallet suppliers are developing processes to ensure that pallets are kept dry and clean until they are delivered to the customer. Pallet users are also advised to follow a documented process to ensure that pallets remain safe for use through attention to proper handling and inspection prior to being placed under load.