BlogSupply Chain SafetyHow to Optimize Food Supply Chain Management for Safety and Sustainability

Consider the taco. Rarely does anyone stop in their local grocery store to think about what it took to get meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, and tortillas to their neighborhood grocery store. All of these products are grown and prepared in different places and shipped long distances through the food supply chain. Without the drivers, warehouse workers, and transportation and operations managers who keep this logistics network running, Taco Tuesday couldn’t exist.

While modern food supply chain management is a marvel, it does have problems.

Food supply chain management is the unnoticed backbone of society; it’s what lets us be something other than farmers and hunters. That it brings the different parts of a taco together so reliably that we can dedicate one night of the week to tacos is a testament to the work and ingenuity of those who ensure foods are always where they need to be. While modern food supply chain management is a marvel, it does have problems. The long supply lines that bring produce to retailers use a lot of fuel, raising costs and making them environmentally problematic. The supply chain isn’t always safe, either, due to issues like cross contamination and adulteration. As amazing as the food supply chain is, in a modern, high-tech world there are plenty of ways to improve supply chain management. In this post, we’ll discuss ways to deal with two of the food supply chain’s biggest issues: safety and sustainability.

Maintaining Food Safety in Food Supply Chain Management

Once more, consider the humble taco and its ingredients. The meat, cheese, and sour cream all need to be kept cold in order to ensure they remain safe to eat, and uncooked meat—which harbors bacteria—can contaminate shipping equipment and other foods. If those contaminated foods happen to be fresh produce that is typically consumed raw, such as the lettuce and tomato in a taco, the contamination can cause illness. Preventing this kind of cross contamination is a major concern of the food supply chain.

How to Optimize Food Supply Chain Management for Safety and Sustainability

Part of maintaining food safety in the supply chain is ensuring that the places food is stored and the equipment used to move it are sanitary and easy to sanitize if needed. One ubiquitous piece of equipment in the food supply chain is the shipping pallet. Because the pallet is used throughout the supply chain and may pass through many locations and be handled by many people and machines, it’s one of the most obvious areas of concern for supply chain managers trying to improve food supply chain safety. Paying attention to the type of platform you use can have a ripple effect throughout the food supply chain. Producers, distributors, and retailers can mitigate food safety concerns by choosing a pallet with these features:

  • Non-Absorbent Surface: A plastic shipping pallet’s non-porous nature means that bacterial contaminant is confined to the surface, where it can be sterilized and removed easily without concern that the bacteria has entered the pallet. This prevents the transportation of bacteria to other parts of the supply chain and by doing so closes off a vector for disease.
  • Durable Construction: Plastic pallets also have a durable, integrated construction which means that, unlike wood pallets, they will not contaminate loads of product with fragments of wood. Their smooth, nail-free surfaces prevent the puncturing of packaging by fasteners or splinters, keeping packaged foods safe from debris and bacterial exposure.
  • Improved Tracking: Some high-quality shipping platforms are equipped with a Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI), a number that can be read with a barcode scanner or an RFID transceiver. Pallet tracking through GRAI numbers can be a less time- and labor-intensive way to track and record product movement which makes it easier to comply with rules laid out by the FSMA.

How to Optimize Food Supply Chain Management for Safety and Sustainability

Creating an Optimized Sustainable Food Supply Chain

Food supply chain management is already a marvel of efficiency and logistics, as the taco demonstrates. One thing it isn’t is fully sustainable, and that’s due in large part to the heaviness of the reusable wood pallet. Every time product is transported, pallets must be transported too, and the heavier they are (75-80 pounds in the case of the typical reusable wood pallet) the more fuel is spent hauling them. For trucks that weigh out, a heavier pallet also means that less actual product is able to be transported on each run, resulting in more transportation legs and higher fuel usage.

The endless cradle-to-grave cycle of wood pallet consumption is not sustainable–or necessary.

Plastic pallets, on the other hand, are lighter than the typical wood pallet–more than 30 pounds lighter, in some cases. This results in reduced fuel consumption, which means reduced carbon emissions on every leg of a load’s journey through the supply chain. Since plastic pallets don’t use wood in their construction, using plastic pallets also leaves more trees standing and able to continue sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. It also eliminates the carbon cost of cutting trees down, transporting them to mills, and turning the wood into new pallets. The pallet industry consumes an estimated 40 percent of the US’ hardwood harvest annually, and many of these pallets are intended for one- or two-way use only. This endless cradle-to-grave cycle of wood pallet consumption is not sustainable–or necessary.

The best way to break the cycle is by switching to lighter, longer-lasting plastic pallets. For most companies, a pallet pooling program is the best way to go about this, as a pooling service will manage the pallets’ return to the beginning of the supply chain for you. Choose a pooling service that offers a durable, lightweight, easy-to-clean plastic pallet equipped with versatile tracking features for intelligent shippingTM and improved food supply chain management.

The iGPS pallet rental program provides a lightweight, durable, and tracking-enabled GMA spec plastic pallet. To optimize and future-proof your food supply chain, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.


Image 1: Unsplash user Emily Simenauer

Image 2: Flickr CC user Lily11511