Handling Damaged Product From Handling In Distribution

Departments - QA

April 9, 2013

Do you find it frustrating when products are damaged from handling in the distribution chain? With all the effort put into producing a safe, wholesome product, a forklift operator tears a package, usually at the side of a pallet, or crushes other packages when squeezed into a storage row. What do you do when product is damaged from handling ing distribution? What are ways to assure quality and food safety throughout the distribution chain? What are some practical solutions? What do you do with the damaged product?

Damaged product is a financial loss that erodes profitability. In fact, it can account for a loss of up to five percent of sales. If you are not measuring and analyzing product damage in distribution, the percentage could even be higher. It is likely that you are already measuring rejected and other problem shipments, but what about the ongoing damage in handling, in distribution, and/or at store level stocking. Is this damage due to pallet configuration, handling practices, or poor packaging? How do you measure this?

Measurement is a series of steps including: gather the information, analyze categories, determine cost, then implement solutions accordingly. The first step is to create some basic handling damage categories, such as:

  1. pallet building (stable load).
  2. pallet configuration (overhanging packages).
  3. pallet protection (lack of shrink wrap and/or cardboard edge guards).
  4. handling practices (personnel and/or forklift).
  5. loading or unloading practices (which?).
  6. load configuration (double stack, light on top of heavy).
  7. storage configuration (triple stack or higher, staggered).
  8. distribution or retail (where?).
  9. package durability (include seals, bag and/or case).
  10. poor equipment (trailer, pallet jack, pallets, etc.).

Through analysis of these categories, you can find and correct the root cause of handling damage in distribution. For example, if packages are breaking due to weight stress, a configuration change might be in order. You may need to produce an online training program for the distribution and retail handlers. Bringing in a damage-prevention expert also may be helpful. In most cases, your return on investment of minimizing damage and improving quality and food safety will make the expense worthwhile, as preventing damage from occurring is the best solution.

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If success is a reflection of one’s wisdom, then core values might reflect wisdom beyond legality. Sometimes there is a conflict between legal and ethical. Why? Striving to do the right thing for customers, employees and vendors being honest and forthright with integrity meeting requirements and exceeding expectations is true wisdom.

In addition to measurement, you will need to implement load protection practices, e.g., minimize empty space, stagger loads side to side, create bulkheads, don’t load damage, and act on feedback. There probably will always be some damaged product from all the handling within the distribution chain, but it can be minimized.

Open Packages.
What do you do with packages that get opened in distribution? If the product has been exposed to the elements, it is not fit for consumption. An example would be a torn package with food contents spilled. This type of damage should be handled so that incidental human consumption cannot occur. In determining what to do with such packages, some salvage questions may arise, including:

  • “Distribution rebagging.” This procedure is full of risk without a return on investment due to the needed equipment, employee training, recordkeeping, and policing of the procedure. It is not recommended.
  • Return to manufacturer. Because some manufactures do not allow damaged product from the distribution chain to re-enter their facility, a practical solution for exposed product is to contact the manufacturer with pertinent information for financial compensation, then following their recommendations. Better feedback of distribution-related damage will lead to better solutions. Although no two situations are exactly alike, each manufacturer should gather the information on compensation according to company policy.
  • Damaged product storage. Although the distribution facility should have a designated area for damage, open packages should be closed and removed in a timely manner. Many pest problems start with damaged product that begin to age with an insect metamorphosis phenomenon.

Unopened Product. What do you do with damaged cases in which the product inside has not been exposed? In many cases, the product is still safe for consumption, but it most likely will not be sold through traditional channels. The practical solution for this, again, is to contact the manufacturer with pertinent information for compensation and follow the disposition recommendation. Some options that minimize loss are non-traditional sales outlets, such as a nearby salvage or discounted grocery store; reclamation centers; or food-bank donations. These options may be most applicable when the damage is caused in distribution. In all cases, all product must be tracked for traceability purposes.

Handling damaged product in distribution is non-quality activity, thus each dollar spent correcting problems can have a four-times return on investment. Consumers are directly affected by retail experiences and expect damage-free products. Reports of damage or food losses throughout the distribution chain are needed to characterize the problem, identify root cause, and set baselines so improvement can be measured. Although the best solution is prevention, handling damage will occur. Return for rework, salvage, and donation are all viable options to handle product that is damaged but unopened in distribution. Again, a practical solution for exposed product is to contact the manufacturer with pertinent information for financial compensation and follow its disposition recommendation. Remember “you manage what you measure.”