Food products require special care and handling across the entire supply chain. Add the complexities of compliance to the equation – whether regulatory compliance such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) or compliance related to strict manufacturer requirements – and the situation becomes even more challenging.
Finding the right food-grade warehouse provider for storage and distribution is an important task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The following are key factors to consider when choosing a third-party logistics (3PL) partner for food products.
1. Can your 3PL handle ambient, temperature-controlled, or climate-controlled?
Within a food-grade warehouse, “ambient” storage means that products can be stored at the natural temperature of the warehouse. Most food products can be stored in ambient conditions.
Other products require temperature-controlled conditions. A warehouse that has temperature-controlled space utilizes cooling (and/or heating) units to keep the temperature within a set range. These units are strategically placed throughout the space to ensure that the area stays in range. Conditions are then managed through temperature mapping and temperature monitoring.
- Temperature mapping. This process utilizes sensors to measure temperature in different areas of the warehouse space. Most 3PLs will go through a temperature mapping process several times a year and adjust cooling or heating equipment based on the results.
- Temperature monitoring. While temperature mapping is a proactive method of ensuring optimal temperature coverage, temperature monitoring is the day-to-day observation and management of those temperatures.
The most common warehouse temperature ranges are:
- Air conditioned. Typically refers to a temperature between 56°F and 75°F. Confectionery products are a good example of a product that must avoid hot and cold extremes.
- Refrigerated. Typically refers to a temperature between 33°F and 55°F.
- Cold/Frozen. Typically refers to a temperature at or below 32°F.
Still other products require climate-controlled storage. With climate-controlled storage, the humidity of the space is regulated in addition to temperature. Commercial humidifiers/de-humidifiers are used along with other equipment to ensure that humidity stays within required ranges for products.
You’ll need to ensure that your chosen provider has the capabilities to keep your products in their required temperature range and has processes in place to quickly address any deviations from that range.
2. Is the facility clean and in good working condition?
Food storage facilities should be clean, well maintained, and free of any conditions that could cause health problems (i.e., bacteria, rodents, insects, fungus, etc.). The building’s exterior should also be clean and well maintained.
Proper care and handling of food products requires a high level of sanitation and hygiene—both on the part of the facility itself and on the employees who work there. A food-grade warehouse should have a master sanitation schedule and a detailed outline of the cleaning/sanitation processes used there.
Look for proof of these measures in person. This entails touring a 3PL facility to ensure that there are enough sinks for hand washing, and that personnel have good personal hygiene and are trained on sanitation and safety measures (you should be able to ask employees about these things when you visit).
You should also make sure the facility takes a proactive approach to pest control both inside and outside (e.g., traps, spraying, etc.). Ask to see the facility’s pest control plan and survey the warehouse yourself to look for signs of infiltration (holes in the building, droppings, insects, etc.).
3. Can the 3PL handle ‘lot control’?
Items that have common characteristics important to food manufacturers (e.g., the same expiration date) are given a lot number by the manufacturer and/or by a 3PL’s system as they are received by the warehouse. This lot number allows 3PLs to quickly identify batches of items in the event of a recall. It also enables the 3PL to perform inventory management protocols like FIFO (first in first out; the oldest lots of items will be distributed first) and FEFO (first expired first out; the products closest to their expiration dates will be distributed first).
Lot numbers are managed by a 3PL’s warehouse management system – a sophisticated software system that effectively runs all key warehousing operations. In addition to lot control, WMS systems perform:
- Inventory management
- UCC-128 label support
- Integration with carrier systems (e.g., FedEx, UPS, USPS) and eCommerce platforms (e.g., Shopify, Magento and Amazon)
- Custom reporting of the metrics important to your business
4. What will the facility do in the event of a recall?
Before you find out whether your 3PL can handle a real recall, you should find out if it can handle fake ones. “Mock recalls” are an important part of food and pharmaceutical warehouse management provided by your 3PL. These mock recalls are “practice runs” for real recall events. Importantly, they should be orchestrated just as carefully and extensively as the real thing.
A mock recall typically proceeds as follows.
- The customer and 3PL coordinate details of the event, including the product being ‘recalled’ and key related information (e.g., lot numbers).
- Items are flagged by the WMS, which assigns the products a segregated hold location and prevents them from being distributed.
- Warehousing personnel are notified and associates each follow specific protocols.
- ‘Recalled’ items are taken from the main warehouse floor and placed in the segregated hold location.
- The WMS is updated as the products enter the hold location and all warehouse staff is notified of the location, and appropriate signage is displayed.
- The customer is updated and the 3PL provider awaits further direction (e.g., whether to hold, arrange destruction of items, etc.).
5. Is the 3PL compliant with all necessary regulations?
The food grade warehouse you choose should be registered with the FDA and in compliance with local food safety inspections. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), producers of food products must create a Food Safety Plan that seeks to minimize the risk of food contamination. According to the FDA, the Plan must include a hazard analysis, preventive controls to address potential problems, and a plan for oversight and management of preventive controls.
As you vet your prospective food logistics services providers, keep in mind that there are expert agencies that may have already inspected them ahead of you. Such agencies include AIB International, formerly the “American Institute of Baking.” AIB is trusted by logisticians across the country to audit warehouse safety and cleanliness standards.
AIB will audit the facility to assess its cleanliness, safety and compliance with FSMA requirements. A ‘superior rating’ from an agency like AIB means that your provider is likely ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to food industry best practices.
Turn to Kanban Logistics for a North Carolina Food-Grade Warehouse
Kanban Logistics specializes in food-grade and pharmaceutical warehousing in Eastern North Carolina. We operate nearly 2 million square feet of warehousing space, with ambient, temperature-controlled, and climate-controlled storage conditions. We are ISO-9001-certified and have a superior rating from AIB International and undergo regular audits to maintain that rating. And we pride ourselves in being audit-ready at all times in the event of FDA inspections.
So, if you’re looking for a North Carolina food-grade warehouse in a prime location on the East Coast, contact us to arrange a visit.