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Is your Food Supply Chain Inventory Safe?

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Large food distributors typically have a dedicated resource or department overseeing quality control for inbound products. For manufacturers, quality assessment includes raw materials coming into the warehouse along with the finished goods being produced. Contributing to the quality requirement are government regulations and controls which vary based on the type of goods:

  • produce,
  • dairy,
  • meat,
  • chemicals, and more. 

Tracking imports and the country of origin certainly complicate this supply chain along with any export requirements for goods produced. 

Depending on your role in the supply chain, whether it be the actual facility itself, the supplier of the products to the facility, or the products themselves, you will be required to comply with a different set of quality assurance (QA) questions. These questions tend to vary but will include areas like the method of receiving goods into the warehouse and inventory controls to recheck the materials when necessary. In some cases, the response needs to be attached to the receiving purchase or production order. For other government regulated goods coming in or out of the country additional data may be required and tracked with the inventory itself, such as with produce tracking the country of origin (COO). 

A good warehouse management system (WMS) supports unlimited configurable fields based on the criteria described above. Examples include supporting data that flows with the inventory from receiving to shipping like COO.  

AFS WMS can configure an unlimited set of QA questions based on criteria like:

  • warehouse,
  • owner,
  • route type,
  • order type,
  • product type, and
  • product.

For example, orders coming by rail may require additional questions as compared to those being transported by truck. These questions could appear for the entire inbound route or per order. Certain product categories will require additional questions based on the type of goods in transit, such as fresh meat versus frozen meat. 

Another advantage with a WMS is the ability to capture images and link them to the order and product. With AFS WMS, receiving and QA operators can bring up the inbound delivery from a tablet or phone while at the warehouse dock. A photo of the driver’s signed packing slip or bill of lading can be linked to the order and provide the capability to link damaged goods to the order line. 

Along with a QA checklist and image capture, tracking and tracing certain data is also a critical part of the workflow. With AFS WMS lot attributes, data can be configured based on the operation and imported to a WMS with the order details or captured during receiving from a workstation, tablet or phone.  

GS1 labeling allows for efficiency scanning a barcode for a single scan to capture critical data like lot code, manufacturer date of expiration/best use date, weight and serial number. Warehouses should work closely with suppliers to provide GS1 labels and coordinate with manufacturers who include GS1 labels on inventory being produced. 

If a problem is identified with a certain product lot, visibility in a WMS to recall the product quickly is also critical. A WMS should be able to not only tell you how much of the product lot is on-hand is and where it is located, but it should also provide visibility to any portion used for production along with quantities shipped to customers. With AFS WMS your current inventory can be tagged as available or as either frozen/hard reservation or held with a soft reservation. Even if an order selector tries to select a frozen item, a WMS will stop the operator.

For manufacturers, this track and trace capability can be used to identify problem processes if an issue occurs downstream following a production run. The product lots generated by that line during the timeframe in question can be used to identify and locate the product stored in the warehouse or in transit downstream in the supply chain.

With AFS WMS, we can also place an automatic Quality Hold status on inventory being produced to prevent the new product from being shipped until the initial inspection has been done. 

A WMS can also automatically remove the status once quality output has been established which can include a target number of problem-free lots within a certain timeframe. If there is cause for concern, the QA team can also enable status flags for different levels of product or lot visibility.  

Alternatively, the QA team can also manually place and remove status by unit, pallet and product lot. By having a quick response with proper controls, the greater the chance contaminated products never leave the warehouse facility and reach store shelves.

Lastly, the quality control process may include outbound product scanning, even down to the case level, in order to track product by lot that left the warehouse. For example, having order selectors scan GS1 labels or a pick box code for voice picking further ensures the lot matches the actual cases being selected. The warehouse Bill of Lading reports can then provide this information for review. 

With AFS WMS, fields can be configured for the route to capture seal number and temperature. Unlimited QC on inbound can be captured to track for:

  • temperature variations,
  • product condition,
  • pest control,
  • sample management,
  • preventative maintenance,
  • sanitation,
  • hazards,
  • foreign materials, and more.

An electronic paper trail is provided from image capture to inbound receipt sign off from driver to photographs of damaged goods for an inbound delivery linked to the order and order line. Additional information is available when required given that WMS enables configurable attributes for the product lot, such as drop-down or free-form fields to capture information like country of origin, government control number, condition or grade, and brand. Also included is the ability to enforce lot and attributes upon receipt of goods all the way through production and shipment to customers. 

The key with a WMS is the flexibility to configure QA as much or as little as needed for your particular operation and the materials being handled. Tracking this information helps to eliminate potential damage or food spoilage while in transit, preventing recalls and lost revenue.

Traceability certainly makes it easier to gain control of the supply chain when problems occur for food products, not to mention the peace of mind that goes along with a process designed for food safety.