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Guide to Shipping Specialty Foods and Produce
This guide is designed to help small to medium sized specialty food businesses gain the knowledge needed to ship their products properly. Shipping food for commercial consumption is something that requires a lot of planning, and organization. There are many regulations that govern the shipment of food and they are constantly changing. External events such as the risk of bioterrorism, virus threats and new research require the FDA to constantly update their regulations. There are also many standards and best practices for how food is packaged, boxed and organized for shipment. This guide will help you grasp the basics of food and produce shipping and contains references to other resources that will help expand your knowledge.
The primary governing body for regulations regarding the shipment of food is the FDA. They govern everything from how the food is prepared, packaged, labeled and shipped. They are constantly adding new regulations and if you ship food regularly you should check their website often to watch for updates that could affect you. The primary page for FDA Food Compliance and Regulatory Information can be found here:
Choosing Appropriate Packaging
Before any shipping is done, the issue of packaging needs to be addressed. Following packaging best practices maximizes your shipping capacity and protects your food during shipment. Read our best practices packaging guide to learn more about this topic.
Planning Your Shipment
Once food is packaged properly it is time to select the proper type of trailer for your shipment. All food must be shipped in a “food grade trailer” whether it is perishable or not. More details on what constitutes a food grade trailer can be found in a subsequent section of this document.
Food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen will need to be shipped in a reefer (refrigerated trailer). When shipping food with specific temperature requirements make sure to mark the packaging or pallet accordingly (E.g. KEEP REFRIGERATED or DO NOT FREEZE).
Your transportation provider should help ensure that you are provided with the proper equipment for your shipment.
Know Where Your Food is Going
When shipping, you need to make sure you know what part of the country your food will be traveling. If you’re shipment cannot be frozen, but will be traveling to New York in January, special precautions may be needed.
Food Grade Trailers
A food grade trailer is any trailer that meets the FDA requirements for food shipment. Here are some of the specifications of a food grade trailer:
- Trailer cannot have any holes in the floor, ceiling or wall.
- If the trailer has had any type of hazardous substance in it, it cannot be used for food.
- The trailer must be dry.
- If any of these requirements are not meant the trailer can no longer be considered a “food grade trailer” and cannot be used to ship food.
When loading a truck you want to load as much product as possible without violating any weight requirements. The weight requirements for each truck vary and the Department of Transportation has a convenient guide on weight limits.
There are also several different methods used for loading your pallets onto a trailer. The four primary methods are straight, turned, pin wheeled, and distributed. The different methods offer trade-offs between loading time and the efficient use of space. Which method you use depends on the distance the truck is traveling. For long shipments it makes sense to ensure the space is used as efficiently as possible to reduce costs, but for shorter shipments quick loading and time are the top priorities. Inventory Ops has an in-depth article that covers the different loading methods in great detail.