Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth

Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

Managing inventories safely is especially critical when food items or beverages are recalled for public safety reasons. Along with the proper training of personnel to watch for possible bad shipments of edible items, recalled or quarantined shipments must be kept in a secure part of a storage facility.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food and beverage safety to make sure they are fit for human consumption. In addition, many commercial organizations are involved in recycling programs as well.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes warnings about food items that have been found harmful to consumers. Food Safety News, a private publication, also reports on food items that have been recalled.

For example, a Food Safety News notice published on February 28, 2019 said: “As Canadian officials continue to investigate Salmonella infections linked to raw chicken, including frozen raw breaded chicken products, Sofina Foods Inc. is expanding its recall of such products to include another brand.”

In addition to keeping recalled harmful food items off grocery shelves, another goal of these watchdog agencies is to repurpose spoiled or outdated food items into edible items that can provide sustenance for the needy. All of these recalls are part of the reverse logistics process.

Reverse logistics or RL is part of every item you can see and touch. Depending on if you are a customer, retail sales manager or warehouse manager, reverse logistics goes by many names.

Reverse logistics also applies to items that are recalled, recycled, reused or returned. You can even replant a plant that was thrown into the trash can. For instance, I did this 30 years ago and my wife now has a split-leaf philodendron that is six feet tall and six feet wide. Reverse logistics may even involve waste or trash that has been salvaged, such as making a craft project out of plastic soda straws.

RFID Tracking Monitors the Movement of Products

A critical element in preventing contaminated food items from reaching consumers involves tracking them from the farm or production plant to distribution centers, wholesalers and retailers. For example, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a proven data tracking method for controlling the movement of products. Some food items may have as many as six different bar codes on them.

But the RFID tag holds 10 times the data that a barcode can hold. There are two types of RFID tags. One is a passive tag that has no battery power. It can store from 64 bits to 1 kilobyte of data.

The other type of RFID tag is an active tag, which uses a battery and can store as much as 128 kilobytes of data. The active tag is mostly used by the military.

An RFID tag can show track-and-trace data from the start to the end of a supply chain. For instance, if a food originated in China, its progress may be tracked throughout the supply chain and all the way to a small grocery store in North Carolina.

EPA and Other Organizations Working on Recycling Wasted Food to Feed the Hungry

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is another watchdog agency involved in food and beverage reverse logistics. According to an EPA study, the U.S. throws away at least 38 million tons of food each year. These tons of wasted food could have fed the hungry.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy plan prioritizes actions that organizations can take to prevent and divert wasted food. “The top levels of the hierarchy are the best ways to prevent and divert wasted food because they create the most benefits for the environment, society and the economy,” according to the EPA.

The good news is that private companies are now stepping up and repurposing formerly wasted food and beverages into edible products to help feed the hungry. Grocery stores, restaurants, churches and food banks are also helping with this reverse logistics humanitarian effort.

The Kroger grocery chain is just one of many private organizations that have solid plans to recycle food items to the poor and needy. Kroger’s zero waste initiative seeks to eliminate hunger by recycling all its unsold food items in the company’s stores by 2025.

Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, notes that “More than 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. each year goes unconsumed, while one in eight people struggle with hunger. That just doesn’t make sense.”

More Food and Beverage Reverse Logistics Problems Need Solutions

The transportation of food and beverage transportation is another aspect that affect reverse logistics for food companies. It is costly when customers return items or a store manager has to remove an item from the shelves because it has been recalled. There are many issues that need to be addressed to get a bigger picture of the issues involved in reverse logistics operations.

The following are some of the issues or risk factors that academics and experts in the field of food and beverage supply chain management need to examine:

  • What are the industry trends in reverse logistics?
  • How do you measure items in the return process?
  • What is the cost to the company’s bottom line?
  • How does reverse logistics affect inventory optimization, environmental sustainability and profit improvements?
  • What is the connection between returns processing and the environment?
  • What causes items to be returned?
  • What steps or processes can be taken to prevent items from being returned?
  • What are the alternatives to disposal of returned items?
  • What are the percentages, pounds and tons of categories of returned items?
  • What are the impending local and federal regulations regarding returned items?
  • What impact do returned items have on bioterrorism?
  • What percentage of returned items is classified as hazardous materials?

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. But if we solve the problems with food and beverage reverse logistics, that will result in an improved environment, fewer recalls, less waste and more recycling.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.