Ensuring the safety, legality and quality of food in storage and in the distribution supply chain requires the development of procedures to ensure the preservation of food and minimise the risk of contamination. Verification procedures also need to be in place to ensure that operating procedures are complied with and are effective.
32.1 Effective warehousing operations should be designed to ensure that all products are easily accessible for load assembly as required, to ensure that aisles and assembly areas are planned so that unimpeded movement is possible to and from all parts of the warehouse, to facilitate proper stock rotation (particularly important in relation to short‐life and date‐marked foods) and to obtain maximum utilisation of available space, consistent with the foregoing requirement. Design of premises should provide separate routes of entry and movement for vehicles and personnel. Designated walkways should be marked in internal and external areas. Vehicles should be loaded and unloaded in a manner that protects the material and/or product being transported. Where the material is susceptible to temperature abuse and/or weather damage, loading and unloading should be undertaken in covered bays.
32.2 Storage and transport of finished products should be under conditions that will prevent contamination, including development of pathogenic or toxigenic microorganisms, will protect against undesirable deterioration of the product and the container, and will assure the delivery of safe, clean and wholesome foods to consumers. This deterioration includes, but is not limited to, contamination from insects, rodents and other vermin, toxic chemicals, pesticides and sources of flavour and odour taint.
32.3 The buildings, grounds, fixtures and equipment of food warehouses and vehicles should be designed, constructed, adapted and maintained to facilitate the operations carried out in them and to prevent damage.
32.4 Pallets should be placed in prescribed places and stored under cover; gangways should be used as such and not as temporary repositories for stocks.
32.5 Product stacking should have regard for all elements of safety. Pallets should be checked periodically for structural integrity, especially incoming and outgoing goods. Cornerboards should be positioned at the corner of each stack, both to make the corner stand out and to protect the product from accidental impact damage by high lift and powered pallet trucks. Palletised product should be checked for stability and to ensure there is no product overhang. Shrink wrap may also be used to minimise product movement on the pallet, but care should be taken not to crush the food products through the tension of the shrink wrap. Pallet stacking configuration and pallet labelling should conform to either internal or customer specifications and should be routinely monitored by quality control.
32.6 When assessing the suitability of wooden pallets for use, the following should be considered:
- design and dimensions are fit for purpose;
- maximum weight load;
- signs of damage and the need for repairs;
- use of any preservation materials that could taint the product;
- dryness of the wood;
- missing blocks;
- protruding nails that could cause damage or affect packaging integrity; and
- potential pest contamination of the pallets.
32.7 Pallets of product should be so spaced as to allow proper ventilation.
32.8 A suitable curtain should be provided at all entrances and exits in order to maintain the internal conditions of the warehouse at an appropriate level for the products therein. A risk assessment should be undertaken, which is formally recorded, that identifies whether covered bays for vehicle loading are required. The use of roller doors, sliding doors or strip or air curtains should be assessed and appropriate measures adopted.
32.9 Warehouse and loading dock temperatures, particularly those for chilled or frozen food storage areas, should be kept at an appropriate level to maintain the wholesomeness of the particular foods received and held in such areas. Routine monitoring of temperature should be undertaken to ensure that storage temperatures remain within defined limits. Temperature monitoring records should be maintained. Procedures should be documented and implemented that define the actions to take in the event of a breakdown in the store.
32.10 Lighting should be as high as possible above the product; the smaller the angle of light source from ground level, the smaller is the shadow made by the stack. All glass and hard plastic items should be suitably protected as per the brittle material control procedure (see 19.36–19.42).
32.11 As soon as product damage occurs or is discovered, damaged goods should be placed in a designated area. Consideration should be given as to whether contamination of other products has been possible, for example if stored above other materials in racking when damage occurs. This is particularly important in the event that allergenic materials are being stored or transported. Care must be taken not to expose foods stored in the warehouse to contamination or infestation. Returns from customers must be assessed for contamination or infestation before being placed in a storage area. Returns from customers must be placed in a designated area until a formal review of disposition is undertaken by the quality control manager or designate.
32.12 Only products that have been properly inspected to ensure that the product and packaging are fully acceptable may be repacked into outer packaging. If it is necessary to repack goods of different production codes into the same outer packaging, the package should be marked with an age code that relates to the oldest packet in the case, that is, the shortest product duration.
32.13 Damaged goods that cannot be repacked must be dealt with prior to disposal to prevent their re‐entry into the food distribution chain.
32.14 Docks, railway sidings, bays, driveways and so on should be kept free from accumulation of debris and spillage.
32.15 Fire exits should be checked on a routine basis to ensure that they are kept clear and allow access. Fire appliances should be suitable for use on the commodities concerned and a sufficient proportion of them should be capable of dealing with electrical and petroleum/fuel oil fires. Fire appliances should be checked by a suitably qualified individual or contractor at least annually. Certificates of inspection should be maintained.
32.16 Forklift and other trucks used within the warehouse should normally be battery driven or otherwise equipped to prevent fume or fuel contamination. Procedures should be in place to undertake regular inspections of forklift trucks to minimise the potential for product contamination and records should be retained of the inspections undertaken. Only competent personnel with suitable training should drive the forklift trucks.
32.17 Vehicles, particularly those used for the transport of chilled or frozen foods, should be capable of achieving, and be operated at, temperatures appropriate to maintain the wholesomeness of the foods being carried therein. Routine monitoring of temperature should be undertaken to ensure that vehicle temperatures remain within defined limits. Temperature data‐logging equipment should be used where deemed necessary to demonstrate that the vehicle temperature has remained within specified parameters during distribution. Temperature‐monitoring records should be maintained. Vehicle procedures should document and implement:
- maintenance and hygiene procedures, including checks of vehicles to identify any potential source of odours that could taint product. The requirements for designated loads and the restrictions on mixing of loads should be defined;
- actions to be taken to ensure security of the load and in the event of a mechanical or temperature breakdown; and
- records that need to be maintained.
When developing hygiene procedures for vehicles, the cleaning of hoses and coupling points must be addressed and hoses should be capped when not in use. Care must be taken to ensure that during loading/unloading the cap is not in contact with the ground or otherwise contaminated. With bulk deliveries, and where required by the manufacturer or customer, records should be retained of the last three loads that have been carried on the trailer/tanker and the cleaning that has been undertaken. The haulage company must comply with any haulage exclusion policies.
32.18 All vehicles, containers and so on should be free from rodents, birds and insects or contamination from them, free from odours, nails, splinters, oil and grease, and accumulations of dirt and debris, and should be in good repair, without holes, cracks or crevices that could provide entrances or harbourages for pests.
32.19 Prior to loading, the vehicle interior (including walls, floor, ceiling and light(s) if internal lights are present) should be inspected for general cleanliness, freedom from moisture, foreign materials and so on, which could cause product contamination or damage to the packages. Lights should be checked to ensure they are intact. The inspection should be formally recorded and linked to the registration number of the vehicle to ensure traceability of information as well as the delivery note (where the vehicle number should also be recorded).
32.20 The load of goods must be evenly distributed so as not to cause the gross weight, or any one of the axle weights of the vehicles, to be exceeded. Where a vehicle is loaded with multiple drops for distribution centres, a load plan should be completed that identifies the position on the vehicle of each pallet. One copy should travel with the vehicle and one copy should be retained for the quality records.
32.21 The load should ride satisfactorily and safely when on the move in order to avoid damage to packages, people or the vehicle in the event of violent braking or cornering.
32.22 Vehicles bringing product to a warehouse should be inspected before offloading for evidence of damage, or of insect or rodent infestations, objectionable odours or other form of contamination. The checks should be documented and include making sure that any lighting or other brittle item is intact.
32.23 If damaged product is accepted and offloaded from the vehicle, it must be kept separate from other product and handled in a manner that will not expose other foods on the vehicle, or subsequently the food warehouse or storage area, to contamination or infestation.
32.24 A procedure should be set up to deal with consequences of accidents and damage occurring when goods are in storage or distribution, for example spillage procedures, salvage or condemnation following damage to goods in a road traffic accident.
32.25 Security precautions should include means of preventing and deterring any tampering with goods in storage and distribution such as the use of tamper‐evident seals (see 7.3). Tools, such as digital photographs, are often used to demonstrate the level of security on release of materials by the supplier before entering the distribution chain. These photographs are then emailed to the manufacturer prior to arrival. The delivery can then be checked on arrival at the manufacturer for integrity and signs of tampering.
32.26 Where quality activities are being undertaken during food distribution, such as fruit ripening or meat maturation, the quality control manager must develop documented procedures and associated forms to ensure that the process is suitably controlled and that an effective inspection and sampling plan has been developed for both in‐transit activities and inspection on arrival at the manufacturing site.
32.27 Where warehousing is contracted out, the premises, vehicles and conditions should be subject to the manufacturer’s food control checks and assessed under the supplier assessment and performance monitoring procedures.
32.28 Where contracted transport is used, documented procedures and/or terms and conditions should be implemented and performance should be assessed under the supplier assessment and performance monitoring procedures.
32.29 In the event of an outbreak, or a suspected outbreak, of a notifiable disease such as foot‐and‐mouth disease, avian influenza, Newcastle disease or swine fever, current legislation must be complied with throughout the distribution chain, including compliance with movement restrictions in surveillance zones.
32.30 The BRC Global Standard for Storage and Distribution, introduced as a private standard in 2006, has been developed to reflect best practice and ensure product integrity is maintained. Elements of the standard include senior management commitment and continuous improvement, hazard and risk analysis, personnel standards, quality management system, site and buildings standards, vehicle operating standards, good operating practices and facility management.