Dairy products require strict attention as they move through the cold chain because of the risk they pose to consumers if that cold chain is broken. More than a few stories of dairy supply chain contamination have made the news, from Listeria in ice cream to salmonella in milk. When dairy products aren’t kept consistently cold, the bacteria they cultivate can be deadly. As a result, it’s critical that supply chain managers do everything they can to ensure that the dairy cold chain remains intact.
Dairy is one of the many categories of food covered under the Food Safety Modernization Act and as such, facilities processing or packaging dairy require a food safety plan. Warehouses are not required to develop a food safety plan, but controls must still be in place to minimize the risk of contamination and spoilage. It’s also wise to modernize tools and equipment to support the stringent standards needed for the cold chain management of dairy products.
Three Best Practices in Cold Chain Management for Dairy Products
The regulation of dairy products typically centers on monitoring, testing, and controlling environments for dairy products, so best practices should also target those areas.
Cleaning machinery and other equipment regularly reduces the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria.
Here are three best practices for supply chain managers to consider.
- Complete a food hazard analysis: The most obvious food hazard to dairy is temperature. Some temperatures may be enough to prevent bacteria from growing but aren’t low enough to protect the product’s quality. Milk is a good example. Bacteria won’t grow as long as milk stays below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but it needs to be stored at less than 40 degrees to maintain its quality. The risk of quality degradation and the risk of contamination are two separate issues to consider. Timetables also present risk, as different dairy products may have very different shelf lives. A gallon of milk may need to make it to the shelf within a few days, while a box of ice cream sandwiches has a much larger window of safety. This can make transporting mixed dairy shipments complex. In addition, products can cross-contaminate through spills. All these risks should be listed and taken into account at every step of the cold chain–typically through software specifically designed for the purpose–and accompanying controls should be implemented to prevent issues. Temperature monitoring and logging are two of the most obvious controls used to manage risk in the cold chain.
- Establish a stringent cleaning schedule: Careful cleaning is important in the dairy supply chain to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Products like milk or butter can seep out of torn packages and stick to pallets or conveyor belts. That material can spoil and grow bacteria that spread to everything else it touches. Cleaning machinery and other equipment regularly reduces the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria, which is why regular sanitization schedules should be followed and all cleaning recorded.
- Develop a tracking and monitoring program: When something goes wrong, it’s crucial to find the root of the issue in order to minimize its consequences and prevent its reoccurrence. Often, problems in the supply chain are noted but steps are not taken to track down the root of the problem or to improve processes to ensure it does not occur again. A spoiled gallon of milk on the grocery shelf, for instance, could be the result of a trip on a broken refrigerated truck several days earlier. Being able to track when the spoilage occurred is essential to mitigating future issues.
Dozens of controls need to be in place to ensure an unbroken cold chain for dairy products. This can make cold chain management seem daunting, but some simple tools can make it easier to optimize your dairy supply chain for safety and efficiency.
Switching to Plastic Pallets for a Safer Dairy Supply Chain
Wood pallets–both flimsy stringer pallets and stronger reusable block pallets–are widely used in many supply chains, including the dairy cold chain. However, they also introduce risk to the supply chain. One of the biggest reasons is the absorbent nature of wood. The tiny pores in wood retain water and contaminants and may spread them to products. Wood is also prone to splintering and breaking, resulting in debris that can damage packages and, again, contaminate products. Plastic pallets are the best pallets for transporting dairy for several reasons. Here are just a few:
- Easy to clean: As plastic pallets are nonabsorbent, bacteria stay on the surface and are easily washed away. This prevents the cross-contamination of products.
- Reduced particle contamination risk: Plastic pallets don’t shed splinters or sharp pieces that can puncture products. As a result, there is no risk of wood particle contamination and less likelihood of product or packaging damage when using plastic pallets.
- Better durability and moisture resistance: Pallets in the cold chain are moved in and out of cold environments, which causes condensation. On wood pallets, that moisture seeps into pallets and can cause them to break down faster. It can also lead to mold and mildew, which contaminates products and may cause retailers to reject loads. Water on plastic pallets, on the other hand, simply evaporates or can be wiped off without damaging the structural integrity of the pallet or leading to fungus growth.
Seek out high-quality plastic pallets with embedded RFID chips.
Regardless of the type of pallets used to facilitate cold chain management for dairy products, it’s important to choose platforms that are compatible with RFID tracking. This allows managers to see where pallets have traveled and when they arrived at each stop, in order to identify and fix lapses in the cold chain. Seek out high-quality plastic pallets with embedded RFID chips to enjoy the benefits of plastic along with simplified tracking to minimize risk.
iGPS plastic pallets are ideal for cold chain management for dairy products because they’re sturdy, sanitary, and non-absorbent. To learn more about our platforms and how they fit into the dairy supply chain, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.