Hard to Handle

With a shelf life measured in days–– not weeks–– putting best practices in place is essential when handling perishables.


As any PRW or refrig­erated carrier will tell you, shipping perish­ables is not for wimps. The delicate nature of produce, meats and frozen foods makes it a challenge to deliver the pro­ducts in their ideal state.

Add to the equation human error, equipment failure and sometimes less-than-perfect sup­­ply chain partners, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.

“Lots of things can happen along the way in the supply chain,” says Charlie Bronson, senior vice president of sales for Walnut Creek, CA-based PLM. “The challenge is trying to maintain consistent temperatures throughout all the ‘touch’ points of a product’s life.”

A variety of supply chain partners can impact the quality of products. “The origin of the products could be the field, the processing plant or the DC,” says Bronson. “You need to get the products at the right temperature from the initial touch point and then maintain that temperature throughout the supply chain.”

That’s tougher than it might seem—a variety of situations can take place along the way. For instance, the loading docks might not be refrigerated at a DC; a truck may not be at the right temperature; or product may sit on outgoing docks too long if a truck is late. “People still make the mistake of thinking that you can take the heat out of a product during the transportation leg of the supply chain,” says Bronson. “That’s not the case—you can only maintain the temperature that you were given.”

But that’s not all. Carrier capacity can also impact how successful you are at shipping and delivering perishables in the right condition. Jeff Potts, vice president at Lean Logistics, based in Holland, MI, says that companies are constantly challenged by costs brought on by a variety of factors. “You have retailers who are demanding smaller orders more often, combined with the new hours of service rules which have reduced the number of hours that drivers can drive,” he says. “The net effect is that companies have to ensure that loads will go out in a timely fashion without paying the premium rate.”

The bottom line is that you need to have best practices in place to ensure that the perishables you handle make it to their destination in the best shape possible. On the pages that follow, we’ve compiled a list of the practices that can help you get the job done:

1. Scheduling: Perhaps the best step you can take when shipping delicate perishables is to get your carrier scheduling in order. “There used to be an adversarial relationship between carriers and their clients,” says PLM’s Bronson. “But now you see more cooperation between the two parties to reduce pick-up and delivery times.”

Andy Janson, vice president of business development and logistics for Hanson Logistics in St. Joseph, MI, has made this a priority for his company. Originally a cold storage company, Hanson has recently evolved into a full third-party logistics provider. “We understand how important it is to focus on scheduling so that orders are selected in a timely fashion,” he says.

Janson says that proper scheduling leads to several other equally important activities falling into place. “You need to arrange scheduling so that orders are picked at the right time, but not too far in advance,” he says. “Staging has to be at the right temperature, and proper scheduling helps ensure that.”
For instance, at Hanson there are three docks that are consistently kept at the right temperature for ice cream. Proper scheduling ensures that those docks are available whenever ice cream needs to be loaded or un­loaded.

Bronson says that often carriers and clients work out delivery windows ranging from 15 to 30 minutes to ensure product integrity. “These improvements were needed—there was a time where trucks might have to wait for hours for pick up,” he says.

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