Here are five questions to ask when considering a 3PL (third-party logistics) for food product distribution:
- Can the 3PL meet all your customers’ requirements for code date compliance, FIFO (first-in, first-out) and other picking rules? Look for a 3PL with a sophisticated WMS that supports a broad range of picking methodologies. The system should be able to produce snapshots of remaining shelf life for any products in your warehouse, alert you to product that’s within 30 days of its expiration date, tell you which product has the oldest code dates, and more.
- Can the 3PL help you reduce supply chain costs? The ultimate measure of supply chain efficiency is the cost of moving each case of product to your customer. Your 3PL should demonstrate how it keeps that per-case cost as low as possible with smooth, efficient warehouse and transportation operations. Examples of proactive practices include:
- Multi-vendor consolidation
- Integrated storage and delivery
- Intermodal service (such as switching from truck to rail and back)
- Can the 3PL meet government requirements for tracing food shipments? Even if nothing ever goes wrong with your product, you must be able to prove that you can track and trace any item by lot number. Companies that don’t meet government mandates can suffer significant penalties. A sophisticated WMS provides the capabilities a 3PL needs to trace products once they leave the warehouse.
- If needed, can the 3PL monitor and maintain temperature integrity throughout the supply chain? A 3PL that needs to store and distribute temperature controlled food will deploy technology and record-keeping procedures to track the environment through all phases of the supply chain – in the warehouse, on the dock and on the road. Any time the temperature slips above or below the ideal range, the system sends an alert, and an expert steps in to correct the problem. (Bridgeport Distribution does not handle temperature controlled product).
- Does the 3PL have plenty of solid experience handling food-grade products? An experienced 3PL not only safeguards all food-grade products in its care, but also knows enough to alert you of potential issues further down the supply chain. How do you tell if a 3PL really has the experience required to handle food?
- Tour the warehouse. Does everything look well-maintained? Or do you see danger signs, such as poor seals around refrigerator doors, or doors left open?
- Is the facility spotless? Are there written procedures to ensure proper sanitation?
- Does the 3PL have a system to ensure that it never commingles products in ways that could cause cross-contamination?
- Ask to see sample reports that demonstrate the power and flexibility of the WMS and other IT systems.
- Ask for documentation of their auditing or inspection program, including written reports.
An experienced, well-qualified 3PL will help you keep your operation profitable, compliant and safe. To find the right partner, make sure you ask the right questions.
(Original article printed here. )