The Importance of Heat-Treated Pallets

What is ISPM-15?

ISPM-15 is short for International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures, No. 15. In layman’s terms, it is a set of international standards that regulate the transmission of bacteria, spores, fungal growth, disease, and other contaminants. Section 15 of the ISPM was drafted in 2002 and specifically refers to Guidelines for Regulating Wood Packaging Material in International Trade. This applies to wooden pallets (obviously) as well as crates, pallet collars, cases, and other wooden shipping containers.

Why Is ISPM-15 so important?

Raw, untreated wood is home to thousands of microorganisms. Even the cleanest plank of fresh timber you can find is riddled with microscopic spores, plant-borne bacteria, insect larvae, mites, fungus, and more. Most of these aren’t an issue for domestic use since other trees in the country are likely to be already affected and will have built up an immunity. Any contaminants are rarely harmful to humans and can be eliminated with various dips and treatments.

When raw timber is shipped abroad, however, it becomes more of a problem. Trees in Germany, for example, have not been in contact with trees in the UK and have not built up a resistance to the myriad of contaminants contained in our lumber. If unprocessed wood was shipped to Germany, it could unleash an epidemic on their native trees. For this reason, ISPM-15 is strictly regulated, and people who violate the regulations can face a heavy fine.

Meeting ISPM-15 Standards

The most effective way to kill off the various contaminants in a wooden pallet or other shipping material is to heat treat it. This process raises the internal temperature of the wood to a specific level where any of these bacteria, insects, fungi, and other pests will be killed off. The wood can then be marked as ISPM-15 compliant and put into the international supply chain.

The heat treating process

Raw wooden pallets are placed in a specialist kiln, which is slowly heated until the core temperature of the wood reaches 56 °C. This heat is then maintained for a minimum of 30 minutes to ensure the eradication of all pests.

Reliable heat treatment

There are other ways of treating wood so that it meets ISPM-15, but they are nowhere near as effective. Chemical dips, sprays, and finishes all lose their efficacy over time and need to be retreated, while some cannot be used to transport food for fear of contamination. Once a pallet has been heat-treated, however, it can be reused and refurbished over and over again.

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