January 2008 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Shipping Perishables Without Going Bananas

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Perishables. It's a word that can make any shipping manager or logistics provider cringe. The loss of perishable goods in transit means lost revenue.

But a host of technologies and new solutions take the fear out of shipping perishable goods such as pharmaceuticals, food, and plants. Choosing the right type of packaging and testing it before shipping your perishable goods will protect them. You can further increase your chances of making safe and timely deliveries by evaluating what you're shipping in the first place. And, of course, always plan and prepare for the worst.

Whether you're an experienced shipper of perishables or just expanding into this type of shipping, it's important to ask the following questions:

What kinds of perishables are you shipping? The first step in preparing to ship perishables is to identify the kind of product you are shipping and its limitations. For example, if you ship bananas, which have a limited shelf life and can't be frozen, they have to get to the customer very quickly. As a result, air express shipping may be the best transportation mode.

In general, food will spoil if exposed to improper temperatures or humidity levels or long periods of time prior to consumption. Pharmaceuticals can become unsafe or ineffective if temperatures or humidity levels exceed allowable ranges. And plastic becomes brittle in low temperatures.In other words, examine what makes your particular product perishable.

What types of environmental conditions will your goods endure? Consider the environmental conditions that the goods will endure while in transit. Will the goods go through high-humidity zones or extreme low-temperature zones? Take these factors into account when determining how to package your perishables.

Some logistics providers offer thermal packaging materials customized to fit your products' specifications, anticipated transit times, and expected conditions. Consider working with a provider that can offer visibility into your packages at all times and provide temperature monitoring in transit.

As an additional step, find a logistics provider that offers testing chambers to simulate the range in temperatures and humidity levels that your goods may encounter in their journey from point A to point B.

For instance, if you plan to ship pharmaceuticals from Orlando, Fla., to Montreal, a test chamber can expose your sample package to the most likely temperature and humidity fluctuations it will encounter along the way. Once the package has gone through testing, the logistics provider can identify the best types of packaging to use to ensure optimal results.

What transportation modes do you use? Besides the range of temperature and humidity levels that your perishable goods may endure, consider the transportation modes you use - truck, ship, rail, or plane. Each mode brings a different set of potential problems.

Working with an experienced logistics provider, you can test your packages against a number of forces that they may encounter in transit - including compression, falls, and shock. Testing to make sure your perishable goods are packaged properly to avoid damage from the impact of these forces will prevent problems down the road.

Do your goods comply with government regulations? The next step is to consider what, if any, government regulations apply to the goods that you're shipping. Packaging of pharmaceutical products, for example, must meet federal health regulations.

Also, do you ship goods cross-border and have to deal with Customs clearance? If so, make sure that your goods are approved by Customs in time to make it to their final destination without being ruined.

Planning ahead and complying with not only U.S. government regulations but also regulations abroad can ensure that your goods arrive on time and intact. You don't want your perishable goods hung up in Customs.

What are the benefits of proactive testing and preparation? If you adequately prepare your perishable goods for transit, your company can realize significant cost savings and other benefits, including:

  • Less damage of your perishable goods, resulting in fewer customer complaints and lower costs due to a reduction in replacing broken items.
  • Less money spent on shipping due to fewer returns and fewer replacements.
  • More efficient use of packaging material.
  • Maximization of space in containers that are placed on ships and trucks.

Packaged properly, your goods may take up less space, reduce your liability, and save you money.

An experienced logistics provider can assess your current packaging materials and processes and recommend improvements. A provider also can offer prototypes and package alternatives tailored to your products and prevent future damage to your perishables by designing an effective packaging solution for any new products your company introduces.

Finally, a logistics provider can deliver on-site training and follow-up analysis to ensure you are implementing the correct solution.

Even if you prepared for the worst, should you buy insurance just in case? The normal insurance offerings that shipping companies provide generally do not cover the loss of perishables due to late deliveries. If the carrier damages, destroys, or loses the goods, then the carrier-provided insurance coverage will kick in to cover these scenarios.

But what if the goods weren't damaged or destroyed and they were eventually delivered - although late? In this instance, the insurance wouldn't cover the loss because the carrier did its job by ultimately delivering the goods - albeit late, which would enable you to seek a refund of the shipping charges but not the value of the now-spoiled goods.

In these instances, it might be wise to seek protection such as supplemental insurance. These offerings protect against the loss of perishables due to late deliveries and replace traditional shipping company-provided coverages. Some policies cover the costs associated with the late delivery of items, including refunding the face value of concert tickets, which are "perishable" if they're delivered after the show.

When it comes to taking steps to prevent perishables from perishing, there's no substitute for thorough planning. Know your product, know your carrier, and know your options. Comparing various types of packaging to find the best option can cut costs dramatically. Taking the additional step of testing the packaging of your goods will ensure the highest safety levels.

Leave as little as possible to fate and you'll greatly increase your shipments' chances of arriving at their final destinations on time and intact.

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