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  August 23rd, 2016 | Written by

Avoiding Product Damage in High Altitudes

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  • Avoiding package breakdowns resulting from altitude changes.
  • A 3PL can help determine altitude solutions that are best for your supply chain.
  • Logistics planning helps remove food safety risks that result from high-altitude shipping.

For all the unique challenges food and beverage manufacturers deal with when moving goods through their supply chain, one of the most difficult to control are the problems altitude creates for food packaging and the product inside.

Adding to the challenge is that the food safety risks created by altitude are not as obvious as those posed by other factors like poor temperature control.

The issue of altitude usually manifests itself by affecting package integrity. Most such breakdowns are the result of extreme changes in altitude, which creates an imbalance with internal and external pressure that the packaging can’t withstand.

Most any type of rupture to a food product’s packaging will eventually lead to spoilage or damage. It’s no surprise that exposure to outside air makes products like cookies go stale and any type of fresh food go bad much faster. The extra air inside packaging is actually an inert gas added for important reasons. For one, it acts as padding for products like snack foods by providing protection from damage during handling. It also works to maintain freshness by preventing spoilage and oxidation.

To illustrate how altitude affects packaging, take an ordinary bag of pretzels. It will leave the plant filled to the max with both product and gas for protection and preservation. As altitude increases however, so does the outward pressure of the gases inside the packaging and the likelihood the bag will pop open.

If you have manufacturing locations in lower altitudes this may be more of a common problem. Damages can be a particular concern if you are shipping to the West Coast or the Great Plains from lower altitude locations around the country like the East Coast or Southeast.

The cost of products becoming unsaleable during transportation for any food and beverage company is self-evident. This reinforces the importance of correct packaging, designed to help protect against the potential damages occurring from altitude. But this is only part of the solution, the rest lies in better logistics decision making, with attention paid to the impact that altitude has on the products being delivered.

Of course, relocating manufacturing operations to avoid any high altitude shipping entirely is rarely a realistic solution to overcoming this supply chain challenge, so here are some other ideas to help. A qualified 3PL partner can help you determine and enact the solutions that are best for your unique supply chain and product.

Change Up Your Routing: In some cases, fixing the problem of altitude affecting package integrity can be solved by simply changing the travel route. Requiring carriers to serve problem lanes by following lower altitude routes may come at the expense of more out of route miles, but this may be cheaper compared to the alternative. Working with logistics partners who can offer GPS tracking to ensure the proper route is being followed is a good way to audit carriers as well.

Experiment with Packaging: Changing a route is not always feasible depending on the shipment origin and delivery destination. Making small adjustments to packaging based on where product is going can also help. Injecting less extra gas into packaging to leave it slightly deflated, or using a larger master pack carton allows for more expansion and can lower the incidence of packages bursting at altitude.

Give Intermodal a Try: An advantage of using intermodal, in addition to rates that are often lower than truckload, is that most rail routes tend to avoid high altitudes and stay at a more consistent level. Rail transport is constrained by gradient and track alignment so freight trains must have a slow ascent when changing altitude. Keep in mind, similar to trucks taking a longer route to avoid altitude, intermodal will often require longer transit times so make sure to factor this into your planning.

Use Temperature-Controlled Vehicles: Vehicles that are temperature-controlled can also offer a solution for high-altitude transport. Refrigerated trailers have air-flow systems and tightly sealed doors which help to keep the compartment stable. Semi-pressurized for the same reasons, these vehicles are less susceptible to imbalance issues and protect against altitude changes during transit. The one potential drawback is slightly higher costs for use of the equipment.

Product safety is the first priority for every food and beverage company. Taking steps to always ensure food is protected from damage and spoilage that may result from shipping at high altitudes must also be a consideration. With proper logistics planning, companies can remove the risk of food safety issues that result from high altitude shipping.

Andrew Lynch is co-founder and president of Zipline Logistics, an Ohio-based 3PL that specializes in providing multimodal transportation services and business intelligence for CPG, retail, and food and beverage customers.