The term “food grade” is used to describe materials, supplies and equipment that are safe to be used for food storage, production or preparation. Food warehousing, distribution and fulfillment centers specialize in maintaining certain warehousing standards that protect the inventory stored within. Warehouses that store food products must meet strict Food and Drug Administration standards and undergo continuous evaluation. These food grade warehousing standards require a higher level of cleanliness both inside and outside, and precautions must be taken to avoid cross-contamination. If a facility does not meet regulatory standards, they must discontinue operation.
There are several types of food-grade warehouses. The most common types of food warehouses are dry storage, refrigerated storage, or frozen storage.
Dry storage warehouses are suitable for food products that do not require temperature regulation. These products include canned food, rice, and grain. Frozen food storage warehouses have facilities to maintain a constant freezing temperature to handle perishable food products.
Food Grade Warehousing Requirements
Food storage warehouse standards are designed to protect the public from being exposed to contaminated food and beverages. All companies that manufacture, process, or store food and beverages must register with the FDA, undergo an inspection every three years and agree to follow certain standards. These food warehousing regulations require that the outside of a warehouse building be free of weeds, standing water, cleaning agents, pesticides, cracks, holes, open pipes and more. Additionally, warehouses must have a regimented sanitation schedule, with comprehensive cleaning and housekeeping records available at all times.
The inspections evaluate anything that could come into contact with food, ensuring that all cleaning practices, pest control, and food safety measures are adequate. Warehouses are then assigned a score based on the extent of improvements needed in the following categories:
- Operational Methods and Personnel Practices
- Maintenance for Food Safety
- Cleaning Practices
- Integrated Pest Management
- Adequacy of Prerequisite and Food Safety Programs
6 Things to Look for in a Food Grade Warehouse
When you are selecting your food grade warehouse, there are many things to consider. There is no greater challenge in the distribution industry than the safe management of food products. Different types of food require different precautions, and the lifecycle of all the foods must be considered. Shipping, storage and distribution are significant parts of putting quality food on the table.
Here is a short list of 6 things to looks for in your food grade warehousing:
- Certifications: There are many regulations that go into food service. When those standards are not maintained, the risk of illness is very real. You want to find a logistics company that is certified in the latest techniques and precautions.
- Centralized location: The supply chain of food handling and food storage can depend heavily on the location of the storage warehouses. The proximity to their final destination can make a big difference in the life-cycle of the food. Traveling a longer distance puts your product at risk and can cost more.
- Facility management: There are so many things to take into account when shipping and distributing food products. You must find a location that can handle the organizational challenge and meet your deadlines.
- Condition of the facility: The physical condition of the actual locations where your food is stored and distributed from is another essential part of the process. Food grade warehouses must be clean and well maintained to ensure sanitation, pest control, and to prevent hazardous material infection.
- Track record of the company: When considering a food grade warehouse, make sure to look into the track record of the business over their history. Ask for testimonials and recommendations and perform searches for negative reviews or reports.
- Supply chain management: If you are looking for a food grade warehouse, you should make sure that you are working with a provider that can handle your complete supply chain management. Having your distribution services under one roof will save you money and ensure a stronger continuity of care.
Health and Sanitation Issues
Health and sanitation are crucial in food storage. Rules around cleaning of the facility and equipment, providing adequate time for machine cleaning between product processing changeovers, guidelines for properly cleaning equipment with hard-to-reach components. If a warehouse does not manage cleanliness carefully, it can result in food contamination by bacterial growth, fungi, rodents, or other pests.
Indications that a warehouse’s sanitation is compromised include:
- Rodent tracks or burrows in- or around the warehouse
- Standing water, weeds, or trash in the vicinity of the warehouse
- Leaks in the warehouse’s roof, foundation, or walls
- Holes in the warehouse windows
- Signs of damage to the warehouse building’s exterior
FDA food recalls can be caused by undeclared allergens, making it the number one reason for a recall. These are allergens that unintentionally wind up in food products due to cross-contact. Keep in mind that cross-contact is not the same as cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is typically used in reference to foodborne illnesses whereas cross contact typically refers to allergens.
Foods that contain allergens such as soybeans, peanuts and eggs must carry labels warning consumers. So, it is crucial for food manufacturers and warehouses to prevent allergen cross-contact. With this in mind, the FSMA made the current good manufacturing practices around allergen cross-contact explicit.
Here are a few tips for storing food in a warehouse or manufacturing facility and avoiding allergen cross contact:
- Purchase equipment where all components of the machinery are accessible and cleanable (e.g., equipment that uses sanitary design principles)
- Proper ventilation to prevent airborne allergen cross-contact
- Design an organized workflow based on traffic patterns within the facility to avoid the transfer of allergens from employee to employee, employee to materials, or material to employee
- Establish a dedicated location for products and ingredients that contain allergens
- Conduct inspections of materials from suppliers to ensure they do not contain any undeclared allergens and obtain a letter of guarantee from suppliers
- Search for and source alternative products that taste the same as an allergen-containing food so that the allergen is not in the facility in the first place
- Properly label pallets and other products containing allergens
Four Principles for Food Grade Storage
- Personal Hygiene and Training Program
All the employees who work in a food-grade warehouse should regularly wash their hands at company-supplied stations with soap and hygienic hand-drying devices. Records of new employee training in the areas of food safety, personal hygiene, quality awareness, incident and crisis management, as well as traceability must be kept and updated.
- Pest Control
Substances to ensure the prevention of pests such as rodents, insects, birds, ants, and other animals must be placed around the perimeter of the building. A warehouse should inspect the perimeter at least once every quarter to check for infestations. Updates to the pest control routine and any changes must be noted quarterly.
- Sanitation Schedule
The warehouse facility must be properly cleaned and kept tidy at all times. The warehouse should schedule and document regular cleaning sessions to ensure that the food-grade facility is sterile from the roof to the floor. Records of cleaning sessions should be readily available. The warehouse should either appoint a skilled cleaning staff or hire an industrial sanitation service provider.
- Lot Traceability
And finally, the warehouse must have a system in place for tracing lot and date codes of products to ensure a “first in, first out” method of inventory rotation.
These four principals and the strict quality control standards ensure that the food items within will never be jeopardized. If you would like to learn more about warehousing, we invite you to contact us to discuss your food grade warehousing needs.
The FLEX Logistics Team is Here to Help!
The principles above are central to the operations of a food-grade warehouse. Contact FLEX Logistics to learn more about our 3PL warehousing solutions and value-added services. Our team understands the importance of getting your products to the market. That is why we aim to understand your business and build lasting relationships with you and your team. Whether you are looking to add a new warehouse to your existing operations, growing and need to increase your distribution efforts, or starting a new company, FLEX has the solutions to meet your supply chain needs.
Contact us today to discuss your current and future warehousing and logistics needs. We will work together with you to understand your requirements and develop a solution that will set you up for future success.