How To Reduce Perishable Food Spoilage in Your Supply Chain

Brandon Marcus
November 15, 2023

In the intricate, volatile network of modern supply chains, managing the movement of perishable foods is a significant challenge. At each phase—from production and processing to distribution — there’s risk of overproduction, delays, and disruption that can lead to spoilage, unnecessary waste, and financial losses.

According to the FAO, about 14 percent of food spoils before it reaches retailers. 

Up-to-date shipment tracking is crucial to avoiding food spoilage. Yet, food supply chain managers often rely on manual tracking of the status and location of their goods, preventing them from identifying and addressing issues promptly. 

So how can you ensure that your perishable goods make it through your supply chain smoothly and reach your customers fresh? In this article, we delve into key practices for preventing perishable food spoilage in your supply chain. 

Make Informed Decisions at Every Stage with Data Visibility

Every supply chain has multiple points of failure. Without a unified, comprehensive, and timely view of status from carriers and other partners, visibility gaps can leave your firm’s response to disruptions lagging. Up-to-date track and trace systems are the answer to information gaps:

  • Monitor a constant stream of data about the location and status of in-transit goods. 
  • Mitigate critical issues with an early warning system— from port disruptions to unexpected schedule changes.
  • Pinpoint inefficiencies and waste within your supply chain, enabling you to optimize staffing, prevent overstocking costs, and evaluate logistical partners.

In sum, data visibility enables you to take a holistic and proactive approach to managing perishable goods in the supply chain, take actionable steps to ensure shipments arrive on time, and preserve the freshness and quality of your goods.

A Case Study In Visibility

For one of the world’s largest importers and exporters of fresh produce, operating in over 25 countries, moving a large supply of fresh produce requires timely shipment updates to prevent lost revenue from unsellable goods. 

The company’s logistics team was losing countless hours manually tracking import and export movements. With roughly 4,500 containers to track annually, this kept them from proactively addressing delays, excessive dwell times, and other supply chain issues. 

After implementing Unity SCM’s platform, the company could automatically track information on arrivals, departures, and other key shipment data from one unified view.

With accurate, up-to-date information (and no more manual tracking) team members could take proactive measures to minimize dwell time, and better manage exceptions and destination operations. 

With end-to-end visibility, the customer reported reducing manual work by 95% and reducing the risk of spoilage by 83%. 

Mitigate Risk to Protect Your Perishable Goods 

Port congestion, border clearance delays, adverse weather, trade policy changes, and infrastructure breakdowns are just a few of the disruptions your supply chain will inevitably face. 

Here are a few key practices for managing and mitigating risk to your supply chain, so you can protect your perishable goods: 

Assess Risk with Network Mapping 

One core strategy for establishing structural visibility is network mapping: the process of documenting your company’s assets (and those of key partners) to form a clear picture of their locations, connections, and key dependencies. 

A rigorous and frequently updated network map allows you to identify potential design weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Understanding how goods move through your supply chains, 

where your suppliers are, where those suppliers' manufacturers are, and what logistical routes all your partners use allows you to pinpoint core risks within your network, and formulate prevention and preparedness strategies specific to those risks. This sets the foundation for sound risk management planning and a more intelligently designed network. 

Intelligent Network Design

According to Gartner, organizations that decrease the surface areas of their supply chains, experience fewer supply chain disruptions. 

Surface areas, as they define it, are the sum of all the products, processes, and networks that compose the supply chain. Decreasing surface areas “constrains the number of touchpoints risk events can have for your organization.”

They recommend redesigning and simplifying your supply chain processes by:

  • Reducing the number of suppliers and third-party logistics providers that compose your networks. 
  • Reducing the number of sites, shipping modes, and lanes that compose your network. 
  • Increasing distances between suppliers, factories, warehouses, and distribution centers to prevent risks associated with geographic concentration.

Clear visibility into your product flows and an intelligently designed supply chain network will help you prepare for and mitigate disruptions. But another key element in protecting your perishable goods is knowing which partners you can count on.  

Know Which Partners You Can Count On

Performing regular assessments of your carriers' performance is imperative to mitigate risk: conducting lane lead time analysis and comparing carrier lead times with industry benchmarks for similar routes is one key measurement method. 

Platforms like Unity SCM allow you to assess lead times and variability across carriers, lanes, and routes to determine the optimal carrier to use to balance tradeoffs between service transportation costs and inventory costs. 

By thoroughly tracking and documenting carrier lead times, you can identify your best-performing partners, streamline pickup operations, and limit shipment delays. 

It’s also essential to analyze your carriers’ networks, infrastructure, delivery processes, and transportation methods to ensure they can manage your specific supply chain needs. 

At the procurement stage, you should ensure that logistics partners have advanced tracking capabilities and robust risk mitigation plans in place to minimize disruptions and ensure your shipments remain secure.

Maintain Perishable Goods with Effective Cold Chain Management

Cold chain management is the process of maintaining a consistent temperature for perishable food items from production to consumption. 

Maintaining the cold chain is essential to the quality assurance of perishable products, as inadequate temperature monitoring anywhere along the chain can lead to degradation, spoilage, and waste. Cold chain monitoring also helps ensure companies remain compliant with regulatory requirements and food industry standards. 

Refrigerated trucks, containers, cargo ships, and warehouse storage systems fitted with temperature monitoring devices and data loggers help ensure your perishables maintain appropriate temperatures throughout their supply chain journey. 

Intelligent Cold Chain” systems use IoT devices and sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity levels of refrigerated equipment and transmit that data daily throughout the supply chain. Sensor-enabled equipment can even monitor airflow, moisture, and light exposure. 

Daily monitoring can alert you to temperature deviations, allow you to act immediately to address potential breaks in the cold chain, and maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive perishables throughout the supply chain.  

Prevent Customs Clearance Delays

Inaccurate or incomplete customs paperwork, and misunderstanding import laws can quickly lead to compliance failures and shipment hold-ups, putting your perishable goods at risk. 

To ensure smooth customs clearance:

  • Familiarize yourself with international laws and regulations; always double-check the information you provide and ensure all customs documents and details are precise and up-to-date.
  • Partner with logistics providers well-versed in international import regulations, laws, restrictions, and any special requirements for your goods. 
  • Plan your shipments with a buffer for customs processing and allow room for potential delays. 
  • Keep regular communication with your logistics provider and customs authorities to stay informed of your shipment's status.
  • Implement technology solutions for timely tracking to spot delays or congestion in the customs process. 

With Unity SCM's document storage feature, you can securely store all documents related to your shipments, like packing lists, bills of lading, and certificates of origin in one centralized location to help ensure a smooth and efficient customs clearance process.

Protect Your Perishables With Unity SCM

Example of Unity SCM's Global Map View

When it comes to perishable goods, the stakes of supply chain inefficiencies, visibility gaps, and disruptions are high. The time you lose manually tracking disparate data from carriers can make the difference between sold and unsellable goods. When every operator on your team has all the key information and data-driven insights about the perishable goods moving through your supply chain, they can proactively address any issue.

Unity SCM’s platform consolidates and contextualizes data from all stages of the supply chain, providing your team with a comprehensive, accurate view of your product flows.

This enables you to: 

  • Track and manage exceptions at a granular level, so you can swiftly detect and resolve issues to prevent the risk of spoilage. 
  • Access up-to-date shipment ETAs that let you track variance against your plan, proactively inform downstream teams and optimize staffing levels. 
  • Get detailed, accurate information about your carriers' performance down to the container level, ensuring you can analyze lead times, compare actual vs planned delivery dates, and identify what partners you can rely on.  

If you need help optimizing your food supply chain, avoiding spoilage, and ensuring your perishable food shipments are delivered to your customers fresh, contact Unity SCM today.