If you manage distribution for a food manufacturer, distributor or retailer, you’re concerned not only with shipping accurate, on-time orders, but also with cold chain management, regulatory compliance, food safety, and other specialized logistics challenges. Those concerns are magnified if you outsource any portion of your operations to outside food logistics companies, since you need to closely monitor these operations.
Any company can claim food logistics expertise, but what should you look for in order to distinguish claims from reality? Here are 7 tips to consider.
1. Seek objective evidence of top-notch sanitation.
Most food logistics companies can talk a good game when it comes to food safety and sanitation, but it’s best to seek third-party verification of high cleanliness standards and performance. AIB International is the best known outside auditor of food-grade DCs. Using AIB standards, the organization grades facilities on a 1,000-point scale, with any score over 700 being a passing grade. Facilities that score in the top quartile of all inspected facilities receive a “superior” rating. Here are things you can do to ensure potential partners run a safe, clean facility:
- Work only with AIB “superior-rated” facilities. All KANE facilities, nationwide, are rated as “superior.”
- Ask for documentation of the most recent pest control inspection. Lots of facilities look clean during a walk-around, but the actual records will indicate if the pest control company identified any issues.
2. Confirm adequate temperature monitoring in the distribution center
This if often critical to ensuring the quality of your products until they are sold. Steps you can take:
- Tour the DC to make sure adequate temperature monitoring devices are in place.
- Observe whether temperatures are monitored in the dock area and staging areas. Often pallets can sit for long period until loaded into a trailer.
- Ask if temperature and humidity logs can be checked remotely.
- Ask if you can receive an auto alert the moment any zone goes out of spec.
3. Ensure systems are adequate to manage stock rotation
Food companies need to maximize shelf life to minimize the need to discard or heavily discount products approaching their “use by” dates. To do that, the food logistics companies you use must have an advanced warehouse management system (WMS) that can manage to FIFO, LIFO, FEFO and other stock rotation protocols. You should validate that their systems can:
- Manage inventory according to your preferred methods.
- Report on the remaining shelf life of every product in the warehouse.
- Track expiration date by lot number.
4. Ensure systems can manage recalls
With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the standard for triggering a recall changed. Rather than “credible evidence,” the FDA now needs only a “reason to believe” that public health may be compromised by mismanagement along the food supply chain. This means that you and the food logistics companies you work with must be able to quickly trace the source and final delivery points of food products. The ability to do this, once again, comes down to having an advanced WMS. Questions to ask your 3PL about this critical area:
- Can you trace the location of any recalled product within hours?
- Do you do regular mock recalls and can you share the results of your most recent mock event?
- Can you trace individual products that may have been combined to create a new, multi-product SKU? The system must be smart enough to deconstruct a co-pack process.
5. Ensure compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
The FSMA shifted the focus from reacting to safety incidents to preventing them. That means having detailed plans and protocols in place to ensure the integrity of food products, from farm to fork. Make sure any food logistics companies you work with:
- Are familiar with FSMA and HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point) requirements. (For more information, check out our Logistician’s Guide to the Food Safety Modernization Act.)
- Have documented processes for handling and shipping food products and can validate associate training on all these SOPs.
- Are committed to investing in systems to support visibility and transparency throughout the distribution cycle.
6. Look for providers of integrated cold chain management
You might work with multiple logistics providers as products move from origin to port to warehouse to final consignee. That can complicate the compliance challenge since a food supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Consider partners, like Kane Logistics, that can offer tightly integrated warehousing and transportation services. On the transportation side, make sure that your partners:
- Can monitor temperature fluctuations throughout the length of the trailer while products are in transit.
- Can provide documented proof that a proper temperature has been maintained from pick-up to delivery.
7. Look for providers that offer an integrated packaging capability
This does not relate as directly to safety and compliance as our other tips, but it can have a significant impact on the efficiency of your food supply chain. Many food products need to be re-configured after they roll off the production line. For instance, candy bars might be combined into a variety pack for Halloween, or a club store might request that standard 6-packs be converted to 24-packs for final sale. It’s simply not economical for this work to be done at the factory. So look for a 3PL that can streamline final packaging by performing it at the distribution warehouse.
Set high standards for outside food logistics companies
If you rely on 3PLs to get food products to market, it’s not enough for these food logistics companies to claim they have the operational and systems requirements for safe, compliant food shipping. They must prove it.
Hold their feet to the fire with very specific questions during the vetting process. By setting the highest standards for partners right from the start, you can ensure product quality and uphold a high-level level of regulatory and consumer trust in your brand. Learn more about KANE’s food logistics services or contact us for a more detailed discussion.