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Food safety in Warehousing and Logistics

Food ingredients are sourced globally and taken through long international supply chains. The ingredients’ sales surge on account of festivals, holidays, ahead of winter buying and many other reasons. Delivering the products in the best of its condition is the biggest challenge faced by supply chain partners.

There are multiple risks associated with transportation, shipping, and delivery of food ingredients. Deterioration in quality with storage and with delays in transit is always a possibility. Risk of stock out at the point of sale due to delays is another such. Thus, the procurement teams always look for suppliers who can handle their operations efficiently and respond at a short notice. However long route international trade may not always support such quick responses.

Punctuality in deliveries is incredibly important. It is a greater challenge if the ingredients are being sourced from countries with poor infrastructure. Longer transit is a threat to food safety unless due care is taken during transit. Therefore, suppliers need to engage capable and versatile logistics partners. Good suppliers with global reach need to be engaged for a seamless service. They optimize the route to provide faster deliveries with shorter transit. Capable logistics partner is a must for success of any international business. Freight forwarders with ISO accreditation would have better systems in place.

One of the important tasks of suppliers is maintaining freshness of the products. It is appropriate to segregate products as per their shelf life and thus treat them as distinct supply chains. Certain segments like perishables, need to move on a faster track. To ensure freshness, each product may have different requirements of packaging. Care needs to be taken to avoid cross contamination. It is important to know anticipated movements of goods well in advance. Suppliers, logistics partners and stores/retailers must have clear visibility of anticipated movements. It gives advance intimation of arrival to be ready to receive the materials as soon as it arrives. Track-n-trace is the best way to deal with the situation.

Best warehouse practices improve food safety and shelf life. Good work practices improve sanitation, pest control and rodent control. Microorganisms tend to develop colonies on warehouse walls, floor, and other spaces. Good work practices ensure a well sanitized warehouse. Record keeping at all stages supports traceability. Usage of adaptable equipment like suitable crates, boxes etc., facilitate faster handling and speedy deliveries.

Ambient conditions sensitive materials require temperature-controlled warehousing as well as refrigerated transportation. Products known for stability under varying ambient conditions, are relatively easier to handle.

“Storage and transit are essential parts of any supply chain. Better warehouse and efficient logistics contribute to food safety and deliver food with more freshness and longer shelf life for the consumer.”

- Anjali Hardikar, Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India

Care needs to be taken to avoid keeping products directly on the floor, better would be to maintain certain distance above the floor surface. Good storage guidelines also include appropriate labeling of products and a practice to store them on racks. Frequent rotation, maintaining low humidity and better ventilation significantly contribute to improved product life and food safety. While getting in and out of warehouse direct exposure to sun light needs to be avoided at all the times.

Digitization of the supply chain provides a quick overview of the entire delivery mechanism to the procurement teams. It avoids transit stops and builds an efficient logistics network. Digitization facilitates ease of locating a product, monitoring its shelf life, monitoring product expiry date, enables FIFO [first in first out] movements and traceability. Digitization also enables a remote control on warehouse activities such as temperature control. No wonder that all leading players have digitized their warehouse operations.

Warehouse and logistics staff need to undergo regular training and get exposure to better hygiene practices, improved work practices, exposure to product features and how to take care of them. Work practice of regular hand wash at a certain frequency improves hygiene and avoids cross contamination and spread of fungi, bacteria.

Strategically, warehousing and logistics provider needs to focus on automation to manage warehouse complexities. Inventory mapping and trace-and-track systems would improve efficiency of their operations. This is the only way to cope up with ever increasing food safety requirements coming from the Regulators.

Storage and transit are essential parts of any supply chain. Better warehouse and efficient logistics contribute to food safety and delivers food with more freshness and longer shelf life for the consumer.

Global food safety initiative [GFSI] has endorsed few food safety systems such as [BRC, FSSC 22000, IFS, SQF etc.] which cover the entire gamut of supply chain, including logistics and transportation activities. These certifications go a long way in building convergence of global food safety practices.

These programs are run with third party audits, which builds confidence in the industry about the competencies of service providers in effectively managing food safety. These certified service providers are certainly better informed and capable of handling the safety aspect of the food in transit. They can be trusted for the safe handling of food while it travels from Farm to Fork.

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Anjali Hardikar

Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India