Hard to Handle

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


Hanson has put appointment scheduling software into place to help it optimize scheduling. “This has been a big advantage for our carriers,” says Janson. “We make our appointment schedule open to them online so that we can work with them to schedule shipping and receiving accordingly.”
The company also makes sure that all required shipping documentation is prepared in advance to minimize the loading/unloading process. “That way product doesn’t sit in the wrong temperature zone while we finish up,” says Janson.

2. Proper loading/unloading practices: Part of Hanson’s loading checklist includes pre-cooling the trailers that will carry perishables. This is an important practice, says Jack Ampuja, president of Buffalo, NY-based Supply Chain Optimizers.

“You have to get the temperatures down in trucks before the loading process begins,” he says. “This is not a five-minute project.”

On the unloading side, it is important to turn the reefer off before opening the truck doors, says Ampuja. “Too often, the guys on the dock ask the driver to keep the unit going,” he says. “There’s a misconception that cold air sinks. When the door is open, the cold air exits the trailer at the back end and sucks the warm air in from the top.”

Ampuja, whose former position was at Rich Foods, says that this practice isn’t intuitive. For that reason, he says, when he was with Rich, the company placed signs on the backs of trailers to remind drivers and dock workers to turn the reefer units off during loading/unloading.

It’s also important, says PLM’s Bronson, that drivers verify that product is at the right temperature at the point of loading. This can be a challenge, however, with high driver turnover. “Most companies equip drivers with a cheat sheet that helps them know the right temperatures for a variety of products,” he says. “Drivers have to have guidelines on the products they’re carrying and what their temperature should be.”

3. Use refrigerated docks: “Every DC should have refrigerated docks,” says Bronson. Amazingly, though, there are plenty out there that still don’t have this basic technology today.

Most refrigerated docks are maintained at between 35 and 40 degrees, according to Janson. “Even with refrigerated docks, you need to move these products as quickly as possible so that they’re sitting on the docks for the minimal amount of time,” he says.

Ampuja of Supply Chain Optimizers seconds this advice. “You want to make a quick transfer,” he says. “But refrigerated docks are a must—you can’t take food from a 35-degree warehouse and set it on a 65-degree dock.”

If necessary, he adds, temporarily store the products in a cooler before loading them onto the docks to further minimize variations in temperature.

4. Use proper loading and packaging: When produce is loaded onto a truck, it is essential that it is placed loosely enough to allow for proper air circulation. “If the products are packed too tight, they’re not going to get the necessary air circulation,” says Ampuja. “Air chutes on the truck can help improve the situation by letting the air run through to the back of the truck.”

Proper packaging also plays an important role. The Herbal Garden, which farms organic herbs, recently made a switch in its packaging to ensure that its products would arrive to its customers in optimum condition.

The company recently began using IPL’s SmartCrate, a reusable container that contains numerous openings to provide ample ventilation while the herbs are en route from the company’s three fields to its one packing house.

The Herbal Garden uses two different colors of the IPL crates for different purposes. Gray-colored crates are used exclusively in the fields. As soon as the containers are filled, they are stacked and transported to the packing facility. When the containers arrive at the packing facility, they are placed in coolers until workers are ready to sort and package the produce. After the herbs are cleaned and sorted, they are placed in beige-colored Smart-Crates and identified by lot number on the containers. The herbs are then packaged and transferred to one-time-use containers for shipment to customers.

5. Do not mix products on trucks that don’t work well together: While this may seem like a basic, logical rule, it actually is often overlooked. “There are a number of products that can’t be stored together,” says Ampuja.

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