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One of the most challenging tasks in the food and beverage industry involves making sure foods and supplies reach their destination in top form. What makes this particularly difficult in the modern supply chain is the number of parties or partners that exchange goods — often there are many.

Food shippers must already contend with a variety of elements, including storage temperatures, packaging, freshness and quality, timeliness and, of course, proper transit. Certain foods and items, for instance, can’t merely get tossed on a transport truck and left to chance. They must have the appropriate packaging to ensure they remain intact — this is especially true of glass and other fragile containers.

Conservative estimates show the financial impact of transportation-related food safety failures exceeds $2 billion annually. To make matters worse, some feel this number is vastly underreported and therefore should be much higher. Whether due to sabotage or tampering, temperature changes or cross-contamination, food safety failures happen, and they can be incredibly damaging to a business. If consumers get their hands on contaminated goods, the outcome could be terrible, with people potentially getting sick or even losing their lives.

Four Food Logistics Tips to Keep Perishables and Foods Safe During Transit

It’s vital that food shippers make certain transportation methods are safe, secure and reliable. Here are some quick food logistics tips to help you get things in order.

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  1. Deploy Smart Monitoring Tools

You don’t want to identify a problem late, after food has become contaminated or people have started getting sick. Food and perishable item quality checks should be preventive. But it stands to reason you cannot understand what is happening with your goods — or along transport routes — if you have not established a way to track details and stats.

Luckily, the emergence of IoT and smart, connected devices can help with this. Big data, AI and machine learning platforms can help automate the process nearly in full.

How you handle the systems and process is up to you. You could install sensors within product packaging, deploy IoT-enabled equipment, track fleet and storage conditions or you can do all the above. Modern enterprise resource planning solutions are a great start, if you don’t already have something like it in place.

Rogue Ale — based in Newport, Ore. — uses IoT technologies to track fresh hops shipments, which they use to brew beer. The supplies must get shipped quickly, so they remain fresh and don’t dry out — brewers must use hops within 12 hours of harvest. Rogue’s application of the tech allows them to monitor the temperature and humidity conditions of their shipments, in real time.

  1. Sterile Packaging

Contamination and cross-contamination are two significant issues when dealing with certain types of foods and perishables, such as fresh meats. While the use of sterile packaging might seem obvious — and should be — it’s the process itself food companies should painstakingly optimize.

You see, sanitation should be a root concern before certain foods even make it into packaging or shipment bundles. Surfaces and machinery should get regularly disinfected and sanitized. Water sources, lines, nozzles or tanks should remain free of pathogens and biofilms — this prevents the spread of foodborne illnesses, too. Transport vehicles and fleets, as well as storage surfaces, should all be verified clean even if the items are already packaged and secure.

If employees or human workers are handling the goods, you’ll want to ensure they follow disinfectant practices, too, including washing their hands regularly and wearing the proper safety gear.

  1. Train and Educate

Everyone involved in the supply chain and transportation process should be familiar with food safety guidelines and regulations. That includes not only the training and education of regular staff, but also the education of partners and their workforce. If you’re working with a third party, take some time to understand their education and training process and monitor their quality standards to ensure everything aligns with your rules and restrictions.

Don’t assume everyone — including third-party service providers — understands or has implemented policies to ensure food safety.

  1. Conduct Regular Supply Chain Audits

Audits, by right, help you ensure operations and processes are running smoothly, and that everyone involved is following and upholding all policies and regulations. Again, it’s a form of proactive maintenance and security that will help prevent potentially crippling food safety issues.

During audits, don’t just concern yourself with the quality and safety of goods. Research the processes and systems, and potentially consider improvements or upgrades that could offer better results. Is your system transparent enough? Can you track an item from shipment to arrival, in real time? Are you confident you can stop a serious food safety issue before it causes damage to the public? Can you accurately discern where a problem is happening and how to fix it? Do you trust the partners and third parties you’re working with?

Understand Your Legal Obligations

These food logistics tips — or guidelines, really — will certainly help you keep your foods and goods safe. You, however, will need to take that just one step further. It behooves you to understand legal obligations and regulatory demands.

What does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expect from your processes and policies? Have you achieved compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act? Furthermore, are you knowledgeable about the FDA’s food regulatory program standards? How do these standards and laws affect the operation of your business?

As you can see, it’s not enough to develop safe and reliable food transportation practices. You must also understand the full depth of what you demand of your business and workforce, including how a safety failure can affect your supply chain.