Chain of Thought

Mold in Them Thar Pills?

The timing of the most recent Tylenol recall couldn't have been better for providers of plastic pallets. As MH&L reported this week, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit is recalling a product lot of Tylenol 8 Hour caplets from store shelves after receiving complaints of a musty or moldy odor. You would think after one of these recalls the company would have gotten to the bottom of this, however, 12 recalls later, we're still reporting on the problem.

In our reports, McNeil linked this moldy odor to the presence of trace amounts of a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA). This is produced by the conversion of its precursor, 2,4,6 tribromophenol (TBP), a wood preservative that has been linked to the pallets used to carry J&J's products. Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), points out that U.S. and European wood pallet manufacturers and recyclers do not use TBP. In fact, it's banned in the U.S. So why all these recalls?

“My guess is [the problem] may be coming from the shipping container and not from pallets,” Scholnick told me. “TBA is extremely aggressive and gets absorbed into plastic pretty easily. So if it's present, I've heard it will go right through the walls of a plastic container.”

Is that what happened with the Tylenol? He's not sure, because McNeil hasn't sat down with NWPCA to discuss corrective measures. Scholnick likens the company to an ostrich with its head in the sand. The pharmaceutical industry itself has stated it is looking into the feasibility of heat treated pallets—something Scholnick says is ineffective against TBP.

To help the pharmaceutical and food chains be more effective, NWPCA is working on a set of best handling practices for pallets and containers traveling these chains. This is not only a service on NWPCA's part, but a defensive measure against the plastic pallet industry's constant attacks on the safety—or perceived lack thereof—with wood pallets.

This brings me to the good timing of the plastic pallet people that I mentioned at the top of this blog. At about the same time McNeil was announcing its Tylenol recall, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) Company, a pallet rental service providing all-plastic pallets with embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, announced a new, premium-level pallet rental service “specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.”

According to the company's press release, the new service—“iGPS bios”—follows a year of research into the unique needs of these industries, and “provides a level of pallet hygiene and security that cannot be achieved with pallets made of wood or other organic materials.”

To cover the security side, each of these plastic pallets has four RFID tags embedded in its frame, enabling tracking and tracing throughout the supply chain. In addition, Spider AT tags throughout this pallet fleet will transmit alerts, specific events and pallet location. That information should come in handy during a recall!

Even if McNeil chooses to keep its corporate head buried in the sand about the unwanted aroma therapy that has been accompanying some of its meds, it looks like the plastic and the wood pallet industries are busy looking for ways to clear the air—while trying to bury each other in the sand.

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