8 questions to ask your food distribution warehouse providers

Food storage warehouse

Temperature and climate control function plays an important role in food logistics operations. Potentially confusing matters, however, is that many terms related to temperature and climate are used interchangeably. So, to make sure you’re speaking the same language as your prospective 3PLs, let’s first define some of the terms of the key logistics involved.

For instance, the term “temperature-controlled” is often used as a general term but it can also describe very specific temperature ranges at which products must be kept. A warehouse that has temperature-controlled space utilizes cooling (and/or heating) units to keep the temperature within a defined range. These units are strategically placed throughout the space to ensure that the area stays in range.

The most common warehouse temperature ranges are:

Ambient. Refers to the natural temperature of the warehouse.

Air-conditioned.  Refers to a temperature between 56°F and 75°F. Confectionery products are a good example of a product that must avoid hot and cold extremes.

Refrigerated. Typically refers to a temperature between 33°F and 55°F.

Cold/Frozen. Typically refers to a temperature at or below 32°F.

Ask the following questions from your 3PL provider to decide whether a company is capable of handling your food warehousing operations.

Can you store various temperature ranges? 

Whether your products require ambient, refrigerated, or frozen space, there are warehousing providers that can cater to your specific temperature range requirements. There are also providers that can handle all your temperature ranges within the same facility. This is achieved through physical segregation measures at the facility as well as technology (e.g., warehouse management system – WMS) to support and maintain that segregation. By partnering with a 3PL that can handle all your ranges, you can eliminate the time and costs associated with outsourcing to multiple providers.

What temperature monitoring systems do you have in place? 

While it’s vital that your products are stored in accordance with their temperature requirements, it’s even more important that those temperatures stay in the range 100% of the time. To accomplish this, your 3PL will have a robust internal monitoring system to track temperatures 24*7. Many 3PLs will have an external monitoring service that monitors temperatures in conjunction with its own.

What happens if temperatures go out of range? 

In the event that monitoring shows an area to be out of range, you’ll need to know that your 3PL is on the case immediately – even if it’s outside of business hours.

Do you control and monitor humidity in addition to temperature?

When it comes to the integrity of food products, humidity can be every bit as important as temperature. If it’s important to your products, you will want to partner with a provider that offers climate-controlled warehousing and not just temperature-controlled warehousing.

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Can your WMS handle ______?

Your provider will manage your warehousing operation with its warehouse management system (WMS). A WMS is the digital cornerstone of the modern warehouse, performing functions such as inventory management and pick and pack/eCommerce functions.

How do you ensure compliance with the FSMA, GMP, and other regulations? 

Whether it’s a requirement related to the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), or your own company requirements, you need to make sure that your 3PL provider’s practices will be in full compliance.

Can we audit your facility/operation?

As impressive as your prospective 3PL’s audit history may be, you still may want your own internal team to conduct a thorough audit of the 3PL’s operation to make sure that it can comply with your own internal standards. A good 3PL will welcome such an audit and accommodate you every step of the way.

Do you offer other temperature-controlled logistics services?

In addition to temperature-controlled warehousing, many 3PLs can handle additional components of your supply chain (e.g., transportation) while keeping your products’ temperatures in range.

Moving forward with a food distribution warehouse provider

All of the questions and factors examined in this article can guide your vetting process and help identify the 3PL that can truly be a partner to your food logistics operation.