What are the big deal safety issues in warehousing and distribution? Good distribution practices include proper pest management, recall, cleaning and ensuring security of the food in transit or held in storage.
A good pest management programme addresses the potential food safety hazards and damage posed by birds, rodents and insects. Distribution warehouses can be very large facilities holding several thousands of pallets of food product containers at any given time. Eliminating to the best of your ability, any harborage areas for insects and rodents that can do untold amounts of damage to containers, and preventing birds that can spread Salmonella from roosting and flying over the distribution area is imperative. It is a good idea to contract the professional services of a licensed pest control company with professional technicians who know how to safely apply pest control chemicals or other techniques that are appropriate to a food handling environment. Similarly, distributors should include vehicles in routine pest inspections. The MSDSs for pest control chemicals should be available, and protocols in place for the proper storage of these chemicals.
All food companies need to know what they are sending and receiving at all times, and they are required to implement the associated record-keeping practices. In addition to good recordkeeping, cleanliness and organization in receiving/despatch areas and in the vehicles goes a long way toward preventing products from being sent to the wrong destination and enhancing your ability to quickly locate items in the warehouse (or on the road).
Good practices mean adhering to a “first in/first out (FIFO) rotation policy or First expired/first out (FEFO), so that product that arrives first or is due to expire first at the warehouse is despatched first.
All food companies, including food transportation and distribution operations, should have recall/withdrawal procedures in place. Manuals should be updated routinely to include the names and contact information of responsible parties to contact in the event of a recall, including emergency or after-hours phone numbers. Instituting mock recall drills is also a good idea because these exercises help to determine whether the operation’s policies and procedures are working and/or identify any potential problems to be corrected before they rise to the level of a recall situation.
Don’t be surprised if your customers request a food security risk assessment. You should have implemented any physical security measures or systems necessary in terms of vehicles, warehouses and other facilities. For example, buildings should be secure and locked, cameras may need to be installed, and truck trailers should not be left open when unsupervised to prevent potential product tampering. The distributor’s food defense plan documented thoroughly and regularly reviewed. The application of seals and recording this information is fundamental to this.
The warehousing and distribution companies that implement these controls will have the best opportunity to land and keep contracts for service, and in some cases, gain preferred provider status with customers It goes without saying that many of these best practices also apply to food processor/suppliers. The important thing is to make a big deal about the big deal issues in the correct context.