A Cold Chain Best Practices Checklist
The best cold chain practices have evolved significantly over the past ten years in parallel with the evolution of the global supply chain. This evolution was the result of free enterprise at work; the best got better. Now, the FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) will add an addditional metric to frozen product distribution. This act is the result of simple questions from consumers about today’s complex food chain. As consumers ask more questions about where products are sourced, they also question handling and packaging procedures. Make sure your 3PL has the answers.
- Audit of your distribution facilities
- Identify risks and put actions in place to fix issues
- Train and document procedures
- Perform preventative routine maintenance
- Invest in technology
- Evaluate transportation options
- Know regulatory standards
Let’s break this checklist down into four primary areas: Operations, Training, Technology and Regulation.
Operations for distributing frozen foods include warehousing and transportation. It is important to distinguish between the two because both include their own risks and regulations. Warehousing and storage facilities have their own criteria for audits, especially if they are third-party owned.
When auditing distribution facilities, check for the following*:
- State of the facilities should be modern and incorporate sanitization in their design
- WMS is used to manage daily tasks and direct work
- Storage is designed to prevent spoilage, contamination, and separates allergens
- Zones are established for temperature control or product-specific needs
- Tamper-proofing measures are in place
- Staging is fully enclosed
- Loading patterns are known and followed by employees
*not an exhaustive list
Transportation of products can be managed with a fairly standard set of criteria with a few new additions required by the FSMA. These criteria apply to both commercial and private reefer fleets. Mixing rules need to be enforced so that carriers avoid commingling incompatible freight. Shipping units, like palettes, insulated totes, dunnage and covers, need to be in good shape or replaced regularly. Loading facilities need to be easy to access, and their appointment scheduling should be optimized for quick turns. Once the freight is loaded, the carrier should know what to do to check and maintain temperature while not compromising the quality of the food. The FSMA Sanitary Transport Rule goes a bit further to address both safety and sanitary transport. You or your logistics provider must keep written work procedures and records on all shipments. Transport equipment needs to be in good condition, and communication about the shipment must flow freely between involved parties.
The next primary area satisfies the Sanitary Transport Rule’s final aspect: training. Inadequate or incomplete training leads to waste and product loss. Make sure your warehouse or carrier have training programs in place. Under the Sanitary Transport Rule guidelines, employees must be trained so they are aware of proper handling and know how to prevent or recognize contamination. The training is not limited to work procedures. Employees also must be trained on personal hygiene.
Time and temperature are integral parts of the cold chain, but what about technology? Advances in connectivity make sharing data achievable and practical. Sharing information easily helps in decision making because parties (shipper, carrier, and consignee) can be alerted to issues, and all have the data they need to decide what to do right away. At a minimum, your company should have a WMS and a TMS. If you outsource these functions, your providers should give you web portal access.
Finally, know your regulations, and be proactive. The complexity of food safety regulatory standards requires dedication and expertise so that your company is up to date with improvements even before they become a law. This forward-looking mentality gives your company a competitive edge and ensures the safety and quality of your products.
Not all 3PLs possess the necessary knowledge required to navigate the complex cold chain. At Hanson Logistics, our team’s extensive experience in refrigerated warehousing and transportation sets us apart from the rest. Our best practices in logistics don’t just meet the stringent regulations and requirements—they exceed them, while simultaneously ensuring customer satisfaction. For 3PL expertise that applies a “Yes, We Can!” philosophy to every challenge, contact Hanson Logistics today