Managing Fresh Produce Shipments

With produce’s limited shelf life, on-time delivery takes on increased importance. These goods must move quickly through the supply chain, as any delay can result in spoilage and lost revenue. Eden Prairie, Minn.-based third-party logistics provider C.H. Robinson’s general managers, Gary York, Bob Biesterfeld, and Mark Petersen, provide this advice for managing produce shipments.

1. Develop documented standard operating procedures. When carriers know the rules at a shipper or consignee facility, it reduces detention charges, loading and unloading fees, and mistakes in handling rejected freight.

2. Build your carrier inventory. Identifying multiple carriers and modes to move fresh produce gives shippers pricing flexibility, which is useful when fuel costs rise. Options such as intermodal or carload are more fuel-efficient than truckload shipments.

3. Create a forward inventory. When it comes to produce, having a just-in-time delivery network gives companies the ability to order product today for delivery tomorrow morning, ensuring consumers the freshest selection.

4. Stay on schedule. Shippers and consignees should make carrier appointments to prevent backlogs on the dock and reduce the risk of food spoilage.

5. Develop a qualified carrier base. Expanded federal legislation and oversight in the transportation industry makes it crucial that providers offer full visibility to your shipments; maintain load security; and ensure the cold chain remains intact throughout the load’s life. Food safety and traceability are two of the most important challenges facing the produce industry. Validating your carrier base against strict industry protocols is a top priority.

6. Make yourself an attractive shipper.  Inspecting the inside of trailers to make sure they are clean, dry, and odor-free is just the start. Ensure that your carriers know your standard operating procedures, and that your shipping department confirms proper loading temperatures and matches case counts to bills of lading. Provide a driver lounge to maximize downtime, and keep up with legislation on issues such as hours of service. Rule changes could affect how far a carrier can drive in one day, which could require you to adjust your current network model— and impact costs.

7. Find the perfect match. Shippers work hard to create a supply chain that meets their business needs, but they also need to ensure they are working with carriers who understand and can fulfill those needs at the right price. Sometimes it costs a little more to get the service you require.

8. Monitor temperatures. Shippers monitor temperatures at their warehouses and make sure the trailer is the right temperature before loading the product. But once the product leaves the dock, the shipment is the carrier’s responsibility. Make sure your carrier has the right tools, technology, and procedures to monitor, report, and adjust temperatures while the product is in transit.

9. Ship it forward, trace it back. The last thing anyone wants is to be faced with a recall, but preparing yourself in advance with the technology to quickly trace the product back to the farm, and even the lot, saves time and money.

10. Deal with issues in a timely manner. Shippers are entitled to due process and the right of inspection, but they need to process rejections quickly.

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