Food Safety: A Wholesale Grocer’s View

Charlie’s Produce is a full service produce company, supplying restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, wholesalers and the marine industry with a full range of conventional, organic and specialty produce, floral items and a huge assortment of fresh-cut and custom-cut produce, with warehouses in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Anchorage. Last year, the wholesale grocer implemented tracking and tracing solutions from Retalix. Casey Precourt, warehouse project manager for Charlie’s Produce, shared some of the results with Food Logistics.

Q: What are some of the biggest benefits you’ve seen since the implementation of Retalix’s solutions?

A: The biggest one that we’ve been getting is we’re able to perform recalls in a much quicker, more efficient manner. With the traceability feature, we attach lot numbers from the grower or shipper of that particular produce item to a specific pallet within our warehouse. In the event of a recall, we can easily look within our system, in our current inventory as well as looking back on our history of inventory received and shipped, and see what pallet numbers are attached to that specific lot number.

For current inventory in our warehouse, we can easily go and locate those products. Our warehouse management systems (WMS) gives us an aisle and slot identifier to every pallet so we’re able to go and locate that pallet very quickly and quarantine it, get it out of rotation so we don’t send out any more affected products. It also allows us to go back and look at that affected lot and determine if other pallets were received and look at all the different touch points within our four walls. We can see where that pallet(s) had gone, and on the outbound side we can look at every single order that we picked from the affected lot that could have potentially been on those orders that we shipped out. From there, we can generate a call list to our customers to locate that product if it’s still within their business. We can give them a courtesy call and let them know we’re performing a recall. Getting a good flow of information from all of the parties that were affected by the recall—that’s probably the biggest benefit.

In addition, we now have better inventory control as opposed to our entire inventory being under no lot at all; we can now segregate our product by lot number. We have certain customers that may only want to get a specific lot or label of an item and we might be purchasing for the same item, many different labels or lots, because it comes from different growers. If a customer requests a specific grower or lot number, we can segregate those in the system and control which customers get which lot. So, it does give us an additional layer of customization for our customers as far as what we can ship to them.

Another benefit we’re getting is it’s allowing us to comply with the various traceability initiatives that are out there in the industry right now. The biggest one that got us started down the path was the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). We have worked closely with Retalix as far as developing features in the software that allow us to track and trace products in accordance with the Produce Traceability Initiative, and that has to do with produce items that we have to assign a unique global trade identification number—or GTIN—and then also a lot number so that we are able to trace that efficiently through the system. The Retalix software provides us the ability to attach that at the time of receiving in a fairly easy manner. It’s barcode scanning equipment that we’re able to use, and provided that the grower and shipper is putting a label with the information in a barcode on each case, we’re able to scan that at receiving; it attaches that information to those pallets and then we can follow it through the system all the way through our outbound shipping process.

We’re complying with the Produce Traceability Initiative. There’s also a GS1 Foodservice Initiative that’s following very similar guidelines. With the Retalix software in place, we can comply with many different initiatives all basically requiring the same information and we can capture it in the same manner.

We purchased the Retalix warehouse management system (WMS) for multiple reasons. One was to comply with traceability initiatives and then the other has afforded us the ability to gain a lot of operational efficiencies in our building. For example, we don’t lose product as easily now. Between the two buildings in our Seattle location we have over 200,000 square-feet. Prior to a WMS system it was very easy for pallets to get lost in the shuffle. Now with the WMS, we have pallet inventory and locations throughout the warehouse so we can always see where everything is at all times.

We’ve also gotten a ROI from our voice-pick unit because we’ve been able to eliminate pick sheets. There are great efficiencies there as far as error reduction.

Retalix has been a great partner throughout this process. They’ve been working with us as far as developing a feature-rich system to satisfy both our needs for traceability, as well as what we’re looking to get out of the system, in general, for operational efficiencies. It’s been a good partnership and we’ve been able to give them good feedback on what works and what doesn’t work as well. We’re not the only ones in this boat; they want to make a system that works for their customers.

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