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What Are Food Logistics?

September 26, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Food Distribution

Food logistics refers to how the movement of food products occurs through supply chains, with three key touchpoints:

  • Transportation
  • Storage
  • Distribution

People involved in food logistics management must account for these phases of food movement while also considering temperature and freshness for many types of goods, as fresh food can go bad quickly and many food products can spoil if not kept cold - or if they're cross-contaminated.  Those complicating factors - along with the stakes of people needing food as opposed to just wanting it - make food logistics a bit more challenging than moving other types of products. Perhaps the most important elements to consider then for food logistics managers are temperature-controlled - aka reefer - capacity and optimized routes that ensure on-time delivery. Otherwise, the possibility of food waste or food spoilage can cause damage to shippers, distributors, food sellers and of course, consumers by making some types of food difficult to get and relatedly, raising prices. 

How to prevent food waste and food spoilage in shipping

Food logistics managers are tasked with efficiently getting the right food products to their destination at the right quality level and in the right amount of time. When it comes to quality level and timeliness for food products, that's code for "unspoiled" and "while they're fresh." So what needs to happen during the food shipping process to prevent food waste and food spoilage?

 Temperature control from start to finish

That means more than finding the right reefer truck or container while the product is moving. It means ensuring that any idle/storage time is also temperature-controlled, keeping the cold chain going strong every step of the way. The CDC notes that one way food contamination can occur is by leaving refrigerated food out too long on a loading dock allowing temperatures to rise enough for bacteria to grow, a process that won't stop even if it gets back into a refrigerated environment later.

Avoid cross-contamination

Ensure transport modes are cleaned and ready to carry the type of cargo you're shipping. As an example, the CDC points to a type of food contamination occurring when fresh produce is loaded onto a vehicle that hasn't been properly cleaned after transporting animals or animal products.

Keep it moving

Fresh produce, meat and dairy - as well as baked goods - have a ticking clock from processing/packaging to the table. While following temperature control steps are part of maintaining freshness, time is working against you, so ensure you have reliable, fast transportation to get fresh foods to their destination quickly to ensure freshness for retailers, restaurants and consumers. While expedited trucks may be the first place shippers think of, rail may be a viable option in certain situations as well.

Stay on top of your food freight

This encompasses all of the above points, as in, it's important to have temperature monitoring equipment installed so you'll have real-time visibility in case something happens to refrigerated transport or a load is left out. It's also vital to know how your loads are being transported and to have shippers who know what steps to take to avoid cross-contamination. And as far as timeliness, real-time tracking is key to know if your products are getting held up along their routes for any reason. All of this visibility allows food logistics managers to make adjustments on the fly to head-off many food spoilage or food waste possibilities.

If your company deals in food freight, here at InTek Freight & Logistics, we can help. Just tell us what you need and we'll discuss how our expertise can optimize your food shipping operations. Rather do a bit more research first? Visit our Learning Center for videos, articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

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