Are you wondering if you’re still in compliance with food-grade handling standards due to recent COVID changes? The following can act as a “refresher” during these critical times of hygiene. Now more than ever, companies involved in the warehousing and distribution of food and beverage products need to ensure their supply chain is compliant with all best practices and safety standards. The following discussion highlights critical areas relative to food-grade warehousing and DC logistics.
During these COVID times, when labor has been re-directed and re-focused to PPE and facility/equipment sanitation, let’s not forget the food safety processes that ensure product quality is maintained. With changing procedures and re-orientation of employee flow patterns, keep in mind the following food safety basics.
Let’s start at the beginning with inbound trailer cleanliness. Continue to ensure that inbound trailers are checked at the guardhouse for emptiness and cleanliness. Make sure there is no foreign material, debris, or loose items still on board from the previous haul. If so, trailers should be unloaded and cleaned by the driver before entering the site. During COVID, guards/inspectors may be a little reluctant to check trailers thoroughly. Reassure them that with the proper PPE (masks, gloves, etc.), this is still a safe practice.
Once at the dock, make sure product is unloaded and staged in the appropriate temperature environment. Vertical storing levelers with a continuous pit have been an excellent development for maintaining the cold chain and facilitating easier cleaning. These are especially popular in refrigerated and frozen environments. The real key here is time on the dock. Our experience has shown that without strict WMS control and time-stamping of scans, the procedural discipline to limit the time that product sits on the dock (and hence, temperature increases) is critical. With some issues associated with COVID (shift changes, delayed communications, etc.), make sure that product is not exceeding these time limits. The same is true on the outbound with staging orders. Ensure temperature-sensitive items (of an order) are stored in the appropriate environment and moved to the dock when loading occurs.
The storage environments (rooms, chambers, etc.) need to be constantly monitored to ensure they maintain the correct temperature. Automatic alarm systems with reporting features (digital temperature loggers, circular chart recorders, etc.) help monitor the status over time and ensure temperatures are within the acceptable food safety range. Critical and extremely sensitive temperature-controlled products will also use temperature monitoring and logging devices in the trailer and on the product. This is mostly used in the pharmaceutical world for medicines and vaccines (e.g., TempTales.). Storage areas need to be cleanable (under racks) and provide sanitation lanes for pest control and monitoring.
Maintaining product FIFO and code date/lot code rotation continues to be critical for quality, shelf life, and product safety. Proper date code tracking and control also minimizes the business impact of quality hold and recall/traceability issues.
Lastly, and probably the most affected by COVID, are the people. As employee travel paths and routing patterns change to ensure proper COVID distancing and timing, make sure that product safety is still maintained. Verify that people cannot touch open product or tamper with sensitive merchandise while traveling through the warehouse or DC. Put up protective barriers or screening as necessary in new “high-traffic” travel areas or pathways.
Hopefully, this reminder helps maintain food safety throughout plant and DC logistics during these unprecedented COVID times.
—Lloyd Morgan, St. Onge Company