It’s always a wise to have clear procedures in place. Good business practices follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) to protect temperature-sensitive products. That means being clear about required trailer temperatures, pre-cooling before loading, and following food-grade inspection processes. Be sure that your SOPs are precise and ensure that everyone understands them.
Conduct regular audits, too, say the experts. It’s not enough to have SOPs in place; you have to know that they’re being followed. Self-audits are a good place to start. These monthly check-ups should verify employee training and practices, ensure that you’re compliant with food industry requirements for pest control, warehouse sanitation, and security. You should also review and verify supporting documentation, says Frank Ahern, director of safety, health, and environment for Burris Logistics.
Surprise audits of any third-party warehouses you’re using is another best practice. “We get audited by our larger customers every year,” says Rick Schlapman, national sales manager of refrigerated warehousing for WOW Logistics. According to Schlapman, some customer audits are more stringent than those performed by third-party industry auditors, such as the American Institute of Baking (AIB) or the American Sanitation Institute (ASI). If you’re without the resources to create or conduct these audits, consider hiring a third-party firm.
Audits also include reviews of trailer inspection reports, temperature monitors, and random inspections of particular facilities. “That’s pretty standard,” says Schlapman. “Sometimes customers ask to see temperature histories for a particular cooler or a computer history showing temperature histories over the last ninety days.”
When it comes to storage operations, ensure certification of cold-storage facilities and equipment. Heightened consumer awareness is creating an increased demand for assurances about food safety. An independent third-party firm should regularly certify any facilities storing temperature-sensitive products your company uses to verify that they are clean and that their daily operations comply with the appropriate food safety requirements.
Don’t overlook a chance to warm up to technology. There’s no need to have an employee don a coat, hat, and gloves to check that cold storage temperatures are accurate. Keeping tabs on freezer and refrigerator temperatures can be accomplished easily with technical solutions.
Continuous temperature monitoring systems are available that can keep track of changes in refrigerated storage temperatures, providing alerts to employees whenever something seems amiss. Some systems provide alerts using email or by sending text messages to cell phone or pagers.
A temperature monitoring system allows you to decide when you want to be alerted about temperature changes, which can provide your employees with sufficient advance notice to remedy a problem situation. Getting advance warning can also mean that you have the necessary time to either fix the problem or move the products to another area before damage occurs.
Some systems can provide access to data over the Internet, while others can provide the documentation you may need to meet any compliance or audit requirements.
Ahern of Burris Logistics notes that it’s also important to use certified thermometers to track temperatures, as well as to be sure that these devices are calibrated on a regular basis.
And, it’s a good idea to have someone sweat the details. Anyone working with temperature-sensitive products has to pay attention to what may seem like minor issues. A few degrees of temperature difference during loading or unloading is all it takes to ruin certain items.
Total Quality Logistics cites the challenges of cold storage as sufficient reason to have personnel available to handle both major and minor emergencies around the clock.
“Our processes and our people are set up to provide the extra attention temperature-sensitive products need and to ensure the cold chain remains intact from pick up to delivery,” says Byrne. “Having people physically on site handling issues all day, all night, and over every weekend ensures our customers that we will immediately handle any temperature issue that might arise during loading, transportation and delivery.”