Successfully handling and selling perishable goods is a formidable challenge in the eCommerce industry, but it’s also a rewarding opportunity for sellers looking to expand into this market. As the name suggests, perishable goods are items that have a finite shelf life due to their sensitivity to environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and time. Failure to store, handle, and transport these items appropriately can result in diminished quality or complete spoilage, rendering them unsuitable for sale or consumption.
A vast array of products fall under the category of perishable goods, extending far beyond the food and beverage sector that often comes to mind first. It also encompasses items such as canned or packaged foods, flowers, pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, and cosmetics.
Each of these products requires specific conditions for optimal preservation, underscoring the importance of tailored and meticulous warehousing solutions. For example, loose products like tea leaves or coffee beans, which are not pre-packaged, present a unique set of needs that differ from their pre-packaged counterparts.
To provide some guidance, this article will explain how to warehouse perishable goods, offering vital insights and advice for eCommerce professionals either already operating in this space or considering venturing into it. We’ll explore key considerations, including warehouse certification, food handling best practices, the role of factory visits and remote assessments, and crucial warehouse features to seek. By the end, you’ll be armed with the essential knowledge to find an appropriate warehouse solution that fits your business.
The perishable goods market represents a substantial component of the global economy. According to a report from MarketsandMarkets, the global cold chain market is expected to reach USD 428.4 billion by 2028. This growth trajectory reflects not only the expanding consumer demand for perishable items but also the complex logistics behind keeping these products fresh and safe.
Warehousing is crucial in the perishable goods supply chain, serving as the critical link between production and delivery to the end consumer. However, it requires specialized knowledge, facilities, and processes, from temperature and humidity controls to unique handling procedures. These elements are mandatory, as cutting corners can result in spoilage, foodborne illnesses, or even legal issues if regulatory requirements aren’t met.
Improper storing can also lead to severe financial losses stemming either directly from spoiled inventory or indirectly from lost consumer trust and damage to the company’s reputation. A single case of foodborne illness linked to a specific product could have a negative ripple effect, causing a significant drop in sales or even leading to expensive legal problems. In the worst-case scenario, these issues can put a company out of business.
The importance of proper warehousing extends beyond preventing losses, though. It’s about ensuring product quality and safety, which are paramount in retaining customer trust and fostering long-term loyalty. Warehouses equipped to handle perishable goods can control and monitor environmental conditions, guarantee rapid turnaround times, and adhere to strict hygiene standards, all of which are necessary to maintain product quality and safety.
Transparency and accountability have become business imperatives, so factory visits and remote assessments serve as indispensable tools in evaluating potential warehouse partners. They’re your opportunity to review facilities, operational practices, and even interact with the team responsible for handling your perishable goods.
During these visits, whether conducted in person or virtually, focus on gauging the warehouse’s ability to ensure the safety and quality of your products. A walkthrough of the premises can reveal valuable insights into cleanliness, organization, and temperature control measures. Give special attention to refrigeration areas, packing stations, and loading docks; all of these are critical areas that can impact the quality of perishable goods.
An impeccably clean warehouse is a non-negotiable condition for maintaining the quality and safety of perishable goods. When examining the premises, look for clear signs of regular cleaning schedules and high standards of sanitation. The warehouse should have well-maintained facilities, clear waste management procedures, and a noticeable absence of dust, debris, or any signs of pests. Ask about their cleaning protocols and frequency and how they adapt these for areas storing different types of perishables.
Well-structured storage layouts and clear marking systems are fundamental for efficient inventory management, particularly for perishable goods, since time is a critical factor. During your visit, take note of how items are stored and organized. Are similar products grouped together? Is there a logical flow to the arrangement of goods that facilitates easy access and minimizes handling time?
Temperature control is a defining factor in the successful storage of perishable goods. Different products require you to maintain specific temperature and humidity ranges to prevent spoilage and protect their integrity. These measures should already be in place and monitored regularly, with automated systems that alert the warehouse team of any deviations. Ask to see these control systems and understand how they function. If possible, review records of past temperature logs to verify their compliance with required conditions.
Pests like rodents and bugs can leave behind harmful waste, damage packaging, and cause other chaos in your warehouse. A good warehouse partner will have robust pest management procedures in place to prevent an infestation that could ruin stored goods and tarnish your brand reputation. Ask to see evidence of regular, professional pest control, as well as any internal monitoring or measures.
For instance, if you can’t physically see rodent and/or pest control traps — which should be located every 12–15 feet along the perimeter and most certainly by every dock door — you’re in trouble. Look for light coming through dock doors and walls, as this usually indicates areas where rodents and other pests can gain entry. Pest control is a major challenge but also one that responsible and well-equipped warehouses can carefully manage.
Video technology can provide valuable insights if you’re conducting remote assessments. Request a live video call where the warehouse representative walks you through the facility, showing you their processes in real time. While not as comprehensive as a physical visit, it still provides a sense of the conditions and practices in place.
When handling and storing perishable goods, certifications are paramount: They serve as proof of a warehouse’s commitment to maintaining safety and quality standards, providing an essential layer of confidence for both businesses and consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a pivotal role in setting and enforcing these standards in the United States. Warehouses that store food or pharmaceutical products are expected to adhere to the organization’s guidelines, which outline stringent measures for product safety and sanitation. They keep perishable goods safe for consumption or use, from the moment they enter the warehouse until they reach the consumer.
Beyond FDA regulations, there are several other industry certifications that ensure the safety and quality of perishable items, including the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program, which is recognized globally and underlines a warehouse’s commitment to food safety. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) certification is also a globally accepted certification for food safety and quality and is highly regarded in the UK and Europe.
Along with the FDA, the SQF, and the BRC, here are some additional key certifications and programs relevant to the warehousing of perishable goods:
This list isn’t exhaustive, and the relevant certifications will depend on the nature of your perishable goods.
Verification of these certifications should form an integral part of your warehouse assessment process. You can check the FDA’s official database for registered facilities or directly ask potential warehouse partners for proof. Certifications are often proudly displayed on a company’s website and marketing materials, as they reflect a commitment to safety and quality.
Reputable certification bodies require ongoing compliance and regular audits to maintain the standards over time. That continuity is essential, as it demonstrates a warehouse’s capability and commitment to sustaining those standards.
Partnering with a certified warehouse can thus positively impact your brand’s reputation and build customer trust and confidence. A merchant whose products are stored and handled in certified warehouses signals to consumers that they prioritize safety and quality.
Quality assurance (QA) testing and chemical inspections are additional measures that greatly affect food safety and quality. They ensure perishable goods stored in warehouses are consistently safe and free from harmful substances, which is of utmost importance both for regulatory compliance and consumer trust.
These testing and inspection procedures should be a standard part of the warehouse’s operations. While it’s necessary to have robust QA systems in place, it’s equally important that they’re active and consistent. Inconsistency or negligence in QA testing and chemical inspections can lead to serious consequences, ranging from spoiled products and financial losses to health hazards and legal liabilities.
When considering potential warehouse partners, inquire about their QA testing and chemical inspection. Ask questions including:
A warehouse with comprehensive QA testing and chemical inspection procedures shows a commitment to maintaining high safety and quality standards, so you can feel confident they’re a reliable choice for handling your perishable goods.
Along with the vast array of perishable goods — from produce and meats to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics — there’s also a spectrum of handling requirements for them. The food handling process isn’t one-size-fits-all; different goods require different storage conditions, handling procedures, and certifications. As such, a comprehensive understanding of these variations is key to ensuring the quality and safety of your products.
Consider the certification and protocol for direct food handling versus pre-packaged food handling, for instance: Direct food handling refers to dealing with consumables directly, without any protective packaging. This includes products like fresh produce, bulk grains, or meat.
Direct food handling demands strict sanitation procedures because the goods are exposed and can easily be contaminated. Warehouse staff must follow rigorous hygiene practices, and the facilities need to be equipped to maintain specific temperatures and humidity levels to preserve the freshness of the goods.
In contrast, pre-packaged food handling involves items already encased in individual packages, such as a box of crackers or a bag of candy. This procedure requires less rigorous sanitation measures but also has its own set of strict rules: The warehouse must be equipped to handle the packaging materials without damaging them, and the storage conditions need to protect the integrity of both the product and its packaging.
Even within these categories, different products have different needs. For instance, bulk candy repacking requires a temperature-controlled environment and a facility that can handle food-grade packaging. Meanwhile, a box of crackers still needs a controlled environment but may have more flexible temperature allowances.
Pharmaceutical products have stringent handling requirements due to their sensitive nature and the potential health implications of mishandling. They often need to be stored in strict temperature-controlled environments to maintain their efficacy. Moreover, specific pharmaceutical items might require secure storage due to their high value or controlled substance classification. Special certifications, such as the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) certification, are clear indicators of a warehouse’s ability to handle these items appropriately.
Health and wellness products, like vitamins, supplements, and probiotics, also have unique handling needs. Similar to pharmaceuticals, these products may require controlled temperatures, particularly if they contain live cultures (like many probiotics do). Certifications such as the National Sanitation Foundation’s (NSF) Dietary Supplement and Vitamin Certification or the Natural Products Association (NPA) GMP Certification demonstrate a warehouse’s suitability for dealing with these products.
Although not ingested, cosmetics can still be considered perishable due to their potential to degrade over time or in improper storage conditions. Many cosmetic items need to be kept away from heat and light to maintain their integrity and ensure they remain safe for skin application. Specialty cosmetics that are organic or natural may also require temperature-controlled environments. For these products, warehouses might need certifications like the International Standard Organization ISO 22716 to abide by cosmetic GMPs.
When selecting a warehouse, verify they have experience and certifications specific to the type of handling your goods require. Ask potential partners about their handling protocols for your specific type of product and ensure they have the necessary knowledge, facilities, and certifications.
Safeguarding the quality and safety of perishable items — be they food products, pharmaceuticals, health and wellness products, or cosmetics — is contingent upon rigorous adherence to best practices in handling these goods. From inventory control to storage conditions and hygiene, every step in the process plays a vital role in ensuring the integrity and value of these items:
Note that each specific product may have additional handling requirements. It’s essential to partner with a warehouse provider who understands these requirements and has the infrastructure, personnel, and procedures in place to meet them.
When selecting a warehouse partner for perishable goods, there are several key features you should look for. Candidates who possess these characteristics are equipped to ensure your products are stored and handled safely and efficiently to maintain their integrity for your customers. During your search, keep an eye on:
Other considerations include documentation, communication practices and platforms, and seeking references from past or current customers. By seeking out these characteristics in a potential warehouse partner, you’ll find one who has the capability and standards required to handle your perishable goods appropriately.
Drawing on the experiences of industry veterans can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the importance of warehouse selection for perishable goods. A noteworthy perspective comes from Chris Daly, founder and CEO of I Want That! Inc., an eCommerce business that handles a range of perishable goods. While he echoes the significance of selecting a certified provider for 3PL services, he emphasizes that the driving considerations of this choice extend far beyond mere warehousing:
By integrating these insights from seasoned professionals into your selection process, you’ll be better prepared to choose the right warehouse partner for your perishable goods and push the success of your eCommerce venture.
Unraveling the complexities of perishable goods warehousing is no small task, and the careful selection of a warehousing partner is highly influential on your eCommerce success.
Warehouses impact product integrity, customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, your business’s bottom line. That makes it important to conduct stringent evaluations through factory visits or remote assessments so you know your partner is reliable. Remember, cleanliness and organization aren’t your only considerations; certifications, security protocols, and temperature control measures form the pillars of a dependable warehouse for perishable goods.
In a market where reputation can make or break your business, entrusting your perishable goods to the right warehouse is a choice that allows no compromise. Your ability to thrive depends on finding a partner with a warehousing solution that understands the unique demands of perishable goods, upholds industry best practices, and aligns with your business needs.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your eCommerce journey, MyFBAPrep can help. As experts in warehousing and logistical solutions, we offer an unrivaled blend of expertise, technology, and client-centric services designed to cater to your specific needs. Don’t leave your perishable goods to chance — get in touch today and learn how we can support you in building a robust, reliable, and efficient warehousing solution for your perishable goods.