Although the steps are simple, they aren't always followed. Product sometimes sits on the dock while other times the refrigeration gets turned off in the trailer. To cut costs, an excessive amount of pallets are being crammed into trailers which can result in damaged goods.
Why does this happen? According to Darragh, there is an overall lack of education on the subject, sprinkled with too many shippers maximizing loads to the point where the safe arrival of goods is thrown into risk. Too often those involved believe that they'll "never get caught" if an issue arises further down the supply chain.
Produce is unique, she says, in that it may not look like it's been abused when it gets to the distribution center. It should be made common knowledge by all those involved that there is an important relationship between time and temperature. Darragh stresses that every time the balance is upset, shelf life decreases.
So it's not surprising that recent national surveys show that many consumers are not happy with the taste of produce. Retailers need to collaborate closely with suppliers in delivering better quality from field to the store. When fruit is being shipped from California to the East Coast, the habit of trying to stuff as many crates as possible into the trailer often endangers quality.
There is considerable public concern these days about the danger of E. coli bacteria. With fresh produce, there is no method of killing it, as there is with meat. Since consumers are already critical of produce selection, coupled with their heightened fears of getting sick, proper handling techniques become all the more necessary.
The bottom line is that shippers must be taken to task for the quality of produce. Companies like Sensitech work with supermarkets to monitor both shipments and temperature recording devices. This helps to further cement a symbiotic relationship with the suppliers in their quest to deter spoilage.
"This trend has become a strong one in the last five years," Darragh reports. "Chains want us to monitor every trip to the store. They want to see how well their suppliers are performing."
Coonan of Ryder System sees improvements occurring simply by "grocers partnering with a reputable and flexible dedicated carrier that is acutely aware of their needs and how to service them."
A key component is making sure both the shippers and receivers are communicating their expectations to the transport companies in terms of how those loads should be handled. Transport companies must use temperature monitors.
"The supply chain has a clear responsibility in fulfilling all the post-harvest requirements of the product and that includes keeping cold temperatures if need be, or just holding the produce at the proper temperatures," explained Humfeld.
Bottom line: Best Practices will only work if the industry adopts them.