A Guest Post by Megan Nichols
For warehouses that store food, proper storage procedures are critical in keeping products safe for customers. While there are many opportunities for goods to become cross-contaminated or damaged, warehouse managers can implement policies and safety protocols that mitigate these risks.
Here are four ways for warehouse managers to improve storage and reduce the risk of contamination.
1. Routine Sanitation Protocols
All equipment used in the warehouse — including shelving, pallets, moving equipment like forklifts, and temperature gauges — should be regularly sanitized. This equipment should also be designed to minimize potential bacteria growth — no small cavities or irregular grooves where moisture and dust can collect.
Because food warehouses tend to move products in and out of the warehouse much more quickly than other logistics and distribution centers, it’s not uncommon to have one or more employees who work exclusively on warehouse sanitation. Dedicating workers to sanitation will help ensure that these tasks aren’t overlooked.
Food waste should be properly disposed of in dumpsters or waste storage should be located away from food storage and warehouse entrances. These waste containers should be regularly emptied and sanitized to prevent contamination and pest infestation.
2. Proper Storage Conditions
Any food-storing warehouse should be equipped to follow USDA regulations on safe food storage.
Dry food, frozen food, and refrigerated food items will all need to be stored at different temperature ranges to minimize the risk of illness.
Dry food items should be stored between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Storing dry food closer to 50 degrees will extend shelf life. Frozen food should be stored at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerated, non-frozen food items should be stored between 32 and 40 degrees. Warehouse doors — and refrigerator or freezer doors especially — should have a good seal on them, and workers should be trained to keep these doors closed as much as they can.
All food storage areas should come outfitted with some kind of thermometer so that these temperatures can be checked regularly.
Dry storage areas should also be well-ventilated to keep humidity as low as possible. Food items should be stored away from walls and above floors to ensure good air circulation — in general, it should be possible for air to keep under and around all sides of a given food package.
Food should never be stored in direct sunlight. Always operate on a first in-first out (FIFO) principle — keeping storage time to a minimum will help reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
Some food may also need specialized storage. Raw meat and unprocessed dairy, for example, are more susceptible to bacteria growth than processed food items. These items should be stored separately to reduce the risk of warehouse cross-contamination and the spread of dangerous food-borne illnesses.
Food storage also applies to employee areas and lunch rooms because proper food storage is essential to healthy eating.
3. Pest Control
According to the CDC, one in six Americans gets sick every year from consuming contaminated food or beverages. Unsanitary conditions and improper food storage are one major cause of this contamination, but you shouldn’t forget about pests. Birds, rodents, insects, and other pests pose a serious contamination risk to food stored in your warehouse.
Pest control methods in any food-storing warehouse should be regularly updated and well-documented. Toxic pest control substances should be avoided — if you think you need them for your problem, contact a professional. Even if their location and use are well-documented, pest control substances can pose a serious warehouse cross-contamination risk if not correctly used.
When inspecting for sources of pests, be sure to inspect the entire warehouse. Certain areas are sometimes overlooked, leaving space for pest infestations to develop. It’s not uncommon for standing water to accumulate on roofs, which can lead to the growth of substantial housefly or mosquito populations. The warehouse grounds should also be well-maintained and regularly inspected, like pest infestations on warehouse grounds can eventually spread into the warehouse itself.
You should also monitor any potential entrances — like doors, windows, or ventilation — to ensure that they’re sealed from the outside to prevent pests from getting in.
4. Staff Hygiene Training
Warehouse workers should be trained in well-documented sanitation and personal hygiene protocols. Your staff should know when they should wash their hands, as well as where they’ll have access to soap and running water. If they need personal protective gear, like gloves or masks, they should be provided with this equipment. This equipment should be the right kind for food handling, like non-permeable disposable gloves.
Warehouse workflows should be organized in a way that reduces product exposure to contamination risks and ensures that doors and other entrances remain open for as little time as possible.
You should also have emergency protocols in place that detail how workers should respond in case of an emergency or injury that may cause food contamination.
Improving Food Storage to Reduce Warehouse Contamination Risks
For warehouses managing food, proper storage protocols are essential to avoiding contamination. Managers wanting to limit the risk of contamination in their warehouses should make sure there are proper sanitation protocols in place and that employees are trained to follow them. They should also follow some equipment and storage best practices — like avoiding porous shelving or equipment and regularly inspecting the warehouse roof and grounds for pests.