Pallet Rack Design in Food & Beverage Warehousing

The right systems can improve product rotation, assist in sanitation and increase storage density

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Frozen chicken storage in a food grade warehouse facility

Food distribution warehouses face unique material handling challenges, due to both their function and regulatory compliance. Whether you’re operating a dry goods, chilled, refrigerated or frozen operation, the standards of sanitation, health compliance and storage efficiency are similar. What can you do to ensure optimized storage and material flow?

Food grade warehouses come in all shapes, sizes and load challenges. Their mission might require very fast turnaround, or long-term storage of varying loads of food products, ranging from frozen meat to pallets of noodles to cases of soda. Although there are many types, the most common are dry storage, frozen storage and refrigerated storage. Some are attached to manufacturing facilities while others are standalone.

Unique challenges

Although food warehouses face the issues inherent in every distribution facility (labor costs, space utilization, picking efficiency, errors, productivity, etc.), they have several unique challenges. Those include:

What are some of the ways you should approach your racking systems?

Storage rack systems

Rack systems are common in these food storage facilities, but should be designed to task for maximum safety. While the type of quick-ship racks you can buy from catalogs and websites (including our website) are reliable and strong, food-grade warehouses often must comply with more stringent health and safety regulations than a typical warehouse. Issues such as the ability to organize, clean and work with sprinkler systems must all be considered.

Food-grade facilities are usually more expensive to operate than other warehouses, particularly if you’re storing bulk products in a cooler or freezer. This means an emphasis on packing the maximum number of pallets safely into space. These situations are almost uniformly complex in design and outcome, and require more attention than simply taking measurements and finding rack that fits.

The height to depth ratio

Your typical pallet rack may not fit the needs of a complicated food storage warehouse with its requirement for better space utilization and regulatory compliance. Consider the height-to-depth ratio, which is typically six to one. Standard racks can never safely exceed that ratio, but engineered systems may be able to, which allows you to squeeze in another layer of pallet storage if your facility has the clear ceiling height available.

Read more: The height to depth ratio

Elevate floor-level pallets

Food warehouses should install floor-level beams to elevate stored pallets off the floor. This makes cleaning and sanitation easier while reducing the chances of food pallets coming in contact with environmental contaminants.

Seismic code compliance

We’ve discussed seismic rack compliance extensively. It’s not terribly different for food warehouses than it is for others, but still worth discussion. Since the loads can be very heavy (frozen pallets, beverage cases), they may warrant beefier rack than code dictates. Given the desired lifespan of a building in this industry, making certain your rack is compliant is highly desirable.

See our interview with Steel King’s Arlin Keck

Inventory rotation and lot traceability

Picking from carton flow in a food distribution centerMost food warehouses thrive on meticulous lot rotation that ensures first-in, first-out food distribution. This is where well-designed material handling operations can save time and help simplify the operation. Pallet flow racks automatically enforce a FIFO concept in a simple, sustainable way for palletized loads. Carton flow racks help workers pick only the designated case or SKU. When filling orders, flow storage can work with your WMS to trace dates and product to ensure it is put away and picked in the right order.

Note that some frozen food facilities emphasize storage density, sometimes using drive-in racks that stress density over selectivity, and can work on a last-in, first-out concept. This works well when palletized product is processed and shipped in bulk in relatively short order.

Food grade warehouses face special challenges

While the challenges of designing and implementing a storage system for food distribution can be substantial, we can help you get it right with five decades of experience in the food industry, from snack foods to beef processing. Contact us today for fast assistance.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Marketing Director with three decades of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. He writes on automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations.

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