04/08/2022 by Christine Morris and Kristin Deno
It’s produce season. That time of the year when produce shipments are at their peak and so are produce shipment rejections. According to DAT, up to 12 percent of shipments are rejected or delayed. Produce shipments are most often rejected because of the complexities of fresh food logistics. Because of their perishability, they are more likely to experience damage in transit due to improper handling, temperature variances, or delays.
A produce shipment rejection can cause lost time, added fuel and shipping costs, wasted product, and sometimes even a strained relationship with your customer. In addition, these rejections can cause a domino effect of added issues, costs, paperwork, and make everyone’s day longer than it needs to be. Yet, with attention to detail, planning, and effective communication, you can prevent produce shipment rejections and manage your costs. Here’s some advice on preventing shipment refusal during produce season.
With fresh produce being on average, 90 percent water, it’s a volatile product to ship. It can develop issues at any stage, during growth, harvest, storage, packing, or shipping. This makes the logistics of shipping produce that much more complicated. As a result, there can be many more reasons for produce shipment rejections to happen. So, what are some reasons for a produce shipment rejection?
The Bill of Lading (BOL) must match the shipment delivered. When the receiver checks the BOL to verify the purchase order (PO) number, skid, case count, and weight of the freight delivered, and it doesn’t line up, then the shipment may be rejected. This could happen for several reasons. For example, the product could be what they asked for but the wrong amount, or the product could be completely different. However, any discrepancy between what they ordered and what arrived will mean a rejected shipment.
*Important to note: A produce shipment should not be rejected if there is less than 50 percent of the product short or damaged.*
Some customers require that the product arrives according to their specific guidelines for packaging. If their requested guidelines are not followed, or anything shifted, fell, or ripped while in transit, then they may refuse the shipment.
Maintaining integrity and freshness is serious when it comes to a perishable product like produce. If your produce shipment falls out of its needed temperature range, even by one degree, the receiver may reject your shipment. Unlike other types of freight, the chance for spoilage with produce is too high, so a receiver won’t often take on the liability with any temperature variances.
Often, retail and grocery distributing centers operate on tight schedules, so a delay could impact their other appointments. Unfortunately, this means they rarely make exceptions when it comes to late shipments and your produce will be rejected.
The trailer could have been unable to keep the temperature in the range needed for your produce shipment or perhaps the trailer was not washed thoroughly before loading. Maybe the carrier showed up with a van and you needed a refrigerated trailer. There are several issues in which the trailer your shipment is delivered in can have the receiver refusing your product.
One important thing to know about produce shipment rejections is that there is a reasonable time for the receiver to reject the shipment. When shipping by truck, the receiver must not exceed eight hours to inspect and reject. When shipping by rail, the receiver must not exceed 24 hours to inspect and reject.
Many issues associated with rejected produce shipments can often be resolved quickly with extra communication and planning.
You’ll first need to figure out why the receiver rejected your produce shipment, so start with asking your receiver that. Ask for pictures showing any damage and a copy of the BOL. Next, ask for the report by the USDA inspector or another qualified individual, as it’s required for the receiver to have the shipment inspected, note any issues, and detail what the cause of damage was. Additionally, ask your carrier for a reefer unit download or a temperature recorder download so you can see if there were any temperature fluctuations during transit.
If you’re considering filing a cargo claim, you must know that cargo claims for produce will only be paid for proven physical damage.
Now, if a produce shipment is rejected and not unloaded, there are a couple of options for you to try to recoup the loss. You can reroute the shipment to a different facility that will accept it, donate the shipment, or have the carrier dispose of it. Regardless of which option you choose, you are responsible for handling where the shipment will go next.
What are any secondary markets the produce can go to if messed up? What’s the disposition? You’ll be the best resource for the area’s market. Be familiar with your shipping lanes and the secondary markets within your location to best salvage the produce if refused.
As long as your produce is still safe for consumption and solely rejected for the way it looks, you might be able to sell the shipment to a secondary facility. For example, a sauce maker or a french fry company might be willing to buy a shipment of tomatoes or potatoes that are still edible but visually unappealing.
It can be possible to reuse a rejected produce shipment through local donation, though there are still high standards for products if donated. Any food and beverage products donated must be safe enough to consume. Donations can be optimal as your produce can still be used, and you can receive tax credits for your donation.
If your produce shipment is rejected due to a temperature violation or clear spoilage during transit, disposal may be your solution. When your produce is determined to be unsalvageable, it may be best to dispose of it. Although the other two options are better for the environment and your bottom line, it’s sometimes a necessary evil to dispose of the product. While recycling and reusing are ideal, they may not be workable due to compliance and safety standards. One of the benefits of disposal is that scheduling disposals are often quicker than scheduling to another facility.
Shipment rejections can stress even the best relationships. It’s best to keep in mind that you are in it for the long haul and produce shipment rejections that can happen even to the best of shippers due to its complexity.
It’s best to acknowledge the rejection, replace the product as soon as possible, and find the source of the issue to help reduce the chance of another produce rejection happening anytime soon. Take ownership of the problem and control of your shipment so you can manage your money from the salvage. Taking control over the disposition will help you maximize your return, reduce claimed damages, and reduce your risk of customer relationship loss.
While these are all great solutions for handling produce shipment rejections, it’s ideal to prevent them in the first place. For companies looking to focus on their bottom line, it’s important to know all necessary prevention measures for produce shipment rejections and plan for when they do happen.
The first step to preventing produce shipment rejections is to have your paperwork and communication in order. Your agreement must be clear on the condition of the produce your buyer will receive. Being able to present your buyer with evidence that your produce is safe and of the quality you stated it’s in before transit will prevent most cases of rejection.
Communication with your buyer and your logistics team on how your produce is being handled before loading, during loading, and during transit must be done effectively and properly. This is especially crucial because of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Be sure to provide photos, diagrams, or any other examples of proper pallet configuration to your warehouse and trucking partners. This kind of communication will help them pack and load your freight correctly from the start.
Produce shipments, especially during produce season, often pay a lot. This means you’ll have a lot of carriers bidding to haul for you. Therefore, quality carrier selection and additional insurance requirements, like reefer breakdown, are crucial aspects to prevent rejected produce shipments.
Make sure you confirm with your motor carrier that they are both authorized and experienced to haul your produce.
Additionally, make sure they understand all your shipments requirements, including FSMA. For example, do they need washout receipts? Do they have a good quality truck, updated trailer, or a quality reefer? Do they have or need temperature-monitoring devices or other technology to ensure the temperature is controlled and the cold chain uninterrupted? Can they pull a reefer download if required?
By finding a quality carrier and building a strong relationship with them, you’ll gain a dependable carrier to use regularly. This can help you reduce any transportation-related issues that could later result in a shipment rejection.
When it comes to produce season, the number one cause of claims that we see comes from over-stacking your boxes or bins of produce when loading them onto the trailer. An example of this would be triple or quadruple stacking your boxes when they need to be double-stacked. While this depends on each shipping location, not all may be aware that each box has a maximum capacity it can withstand and not damage your produce. You need to know the weight-bearing amount of your boxes so you can place no more than that. When you over-stack, it’s will increase the risk of your produce getting squished and damaged. Certain produce can be very fragile, like berries, tomatoes, asparagus, or bananas. They tend to bruise easily, so single-stacking boxes are even more ideal for them.
Industry experts say that as much as 32 percent of all cargo is loaded at the wrong temperature.
This is often due to poor loading practices, like loading from a hot field. When it comes to produce, loading from a hot field is a HUGE NO. This causes the driver to start traveling with your produce at the wrong temperature, which puts compliance and financial pressure on carriers, as the load is at a high risk of spoiling. Your produce should be safely brought down to its required transit temperature before loading to prevent any spoilage.
While this may seem silly, it still needs to be said: If a motor carrier shows up with a dry van and your produce requires a refrigerated trailer, DO NOT LOAD. While losing some time or causing a bit of a delay is not ideal, it’s better to have the proper trailer needed to keep your risk of shipment rejection from spoilage or damage low. Additionally, make sure your carrier’s refrigerated temperature monitoring system has the proper temperature, date, and time set. If there is a rejection due to temperature variance and the date and time are wrong, you’ll take the blame due to current regulations.
When it comes to your motor carrier and loading, it’s also ideal to allow them to inspect and pulp your product before loading. They have the right to do so, and the opportunity can give your carrier the confidence to haul your product safely. It also helps build a strong and loyal relationship, while helping you gain more insight that your product is okay before it’s in transit.
Another way to help prevent produce rejections is to have a shipping platform that can be cleaned without leaving any splinters or debris in vehicles. Food-grade plastic pallets are ideal for solving many hygiene issues while helping reduce product damage during transport. Unlike wooden pallets, they don’t splinter or leave behind debris, and their nonabsorbent surface can be easily cleaned and dried.
As mentioned during loading, make sure you have a way to track temperatures throughout the shipment and be able to receive notifications in real time. By getting early warning signs of issues, temperature variations can be quickly detected and dealt with right away instead of learning about them later at delivery.
Additionally, make sure you have a qualified inspector on-site at delivery. This will help should the receiver decide to reject your produce shipment to determine if your product is salvageable for you to recoup costs.
Before transit, it’s best that you set up the potential for rework facilities to accept your produce should the receiver refuse it. Talk to nearby receiving facilities to establish accounts, processes, and pricing ahead of time. This way, if there has been some visual damage or slight shifting, it can quickly reroute to the other location and be reworked, being proactive rather than reactive. This is especially important when it comes to produce since time is of the essence.
Produce shipment rejections can be complex and confusing at times. This is where working with a third-party logistics company (3PL), like Trinity, can come in handy. We have Teams to help you with the prevention of rejections as well as when one does happen.
Our Carrier Compliance Team is here to vet our carrier network and make sure they have what you need to get your shipment delivered safely. Not only do we have a rigorous vetting process, but depending on your shipment requirements, we’ll make checks for extra insurance needs like reefer breakdown and make sure they are FSMA compliant.
No matter how prepared one can be, unexpected things can still happen. Shipments may get refused and so that’s why we have a Claims Team here ready to assist you. It can be a real lifesaver to have a Team of certified professionals to help take the stress out of the claims process. Should it be needed, our Claims Team will help you start the process, be there to track progress, and assist until a resolution is met between all involved parties.
With proper prevention, compliance, and planning, produce shipment rejections can become less of a thorn in your side during produce season. Even still, they can and will happen at times. Make sure you’re ready and have the support you need by working with an experienced provider such as Trinity.
You’ll have the advantage of working with and trusting our risk departments, who work hard to help mitigate any risk to your shipments. In addition, you can trust that each of our carrier relationships is properly vetted for things like reefer breakdown coverage. Should you need it, you’ll have a whole Claims Team ready to help you sort through any unexpected shipment issues.
Gain the support you need to navigate the complexity of produce season with less stress.
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