Font Size:
Extranet > NetNews > Safety in the Workplace >
Practice Safe Food Distribution


Practice Safe Food Distribution

Distribution facilities have a responsibility to maintain different temperature and humidity levels for dry products, as well as fresh, refrigerated, and frozen foods while in the warehouse and on the road. With so many moving parts, ever wonder how foodservice distributors manage to deliver quality foods? 

Restricting Access

Unauthorized access to any storage facility is a risk. Food distribution facilities must be aware of the potential for malicious contamination and be prepared to guard against accidental contamination or spoilage caused by carelessness or negligence, either on the part of employees or others. Best practice safeguards and safety protocols include restricted and documented access to the entire facility. 

Procedures must also be in place to prevent cross-contamination, infestations of insects and rodents, and to guard against environmental issues such as mold. 


As you might imagine, cleanliness is extremely important and requires constant diligence. The floor and pallet slots are cleaned and inspected regularly. Most reputable operations have third-party inspections performed once or twice a year to look for safety and sanitation issues, and keep detailed records of past inspections. 

Temperature Zones

Typically, foodservice warehouses have three temperature zones.  

Dry and canned goods that do not call for refrigeration are stored at room temperature, or in an ambient zone. 

Fresh meats, dairy, and most produce are stored in the cooler, at refrigerated temperatures.

Frozen goods are stored in a freezer, which should be kept at 0 °F or below. 

Temperature zones are carefully monitored to maintain proper temperatures at all times, either by high-tech computer programs that send email updates when temperatures fluctuate, or by more old-school eyeball monitoring of gauges. 

Quality Assurance

Another best practices safeguard is consistent sampling by an in-house quality inspector, trained to test for both food safety and product quality. Regular third-party testing is also recommended. 

Product Rotation

First in-first out product rotation ensures that goods don't get old while sitting on a pallet in a distribution center. As each pallet is received on the loading dock, it is tagged with a bar code label, coded to describe the contents and the arrival date. The location of the pallet is stored in a computer for retrieval in the order it was received, or first in-first out. 

Picking and Loading

When filling an order, warehouse employees nicknamed “pickers” find the appropriate pallet and pull the necessary items. Much like a grocery bagger at a food store, they load the heaviest, most stable items on the bottom and stack lighter items on top, taking care to keep foods that require different temperature separate. 

Non-food items, especially cleaning solutions and other chemicals, are packed separately from food items. 

On the Road

Food safety does not stop at the warehouse doors. There are different kinds of delivery vehicles to deliver different kinds of goods, but all trucks must be clean, dry, insulated, and sealed to prevent hungry pests from sneaking in while the truck is parked like a smorgasbord on wheels. A good seal also prevents leakage from rain and snow, dust accumulation, and fluctuations in temperature. 

Before the truck is loaded, the truck is cleaned and inspected for debris, and any undelivered goods left over from the last run are removed. The cooling unit is checked out and turned on for at least an hour before loading, so the trailer is the right temperature before the food is loaded. 

Loading is accomplished in sequence to minimize the time food sits on the loading dock. Best practices call for a refrigerated dock to maintain constant temperature. 

Mixed Loads

Foodservice distribution orders frequently contain both refrigerated and frozen foods, and if the order is insufficient to fill two trucks, insulated portable bulkheads are set up to create separate spaces, with frozen foods at the front of the compartment nearest the cooling unit which is set at 0° F or lower, and refrigerated and ambient products at the back, in a compartment set to 41° F or lower.  

The Driver's Responsibility

Once he pulls away, the truck driver is on the hot seat-literally-to make sure the products remain at optimal temperature, but some quality operations have onboard computers to monitor the temperature and communicate with the warehouse, a technology unavailable only a decade or so ago. Other companies rely on in-transit checks or recording devices that automatically track temperature while the truck is in transit. 

Once the order arrives at its destination, it should be inspected for damage, quality, and temperature before the order is accepted. 

While food safety measures may seem time-consuming and costly, it all makes sense in the long run. A foodservice distribution company that overlooks the details cannot please its customers, because the quality of food simply can't be compromised, and it becomes quickly obvious when that happens. Best practices for safe food distribution help keep spoilage and loss costs down, and helps keep satisfied customers coming back. What's better practice than that?

Source: Sherry Gray for