Food safety

Food shipment safety - When should you refuse to accept food in a shipment?

A properly trained food handler must be assigned to inspect food shipment. Low food quality, tampered packaging, and ...

Get your HACCP in
1 hour!

Sign up now

Create Your
Food Safety System
in 15 Minutes


Food Safety System
in 15 min
  • A properly trained food handler must be assigned to inspect food shipment.
  • Low food quality, tampered packaging, and wrong storage temperature may warrant rejection of food shipment.
  • The quality and safety of your raw materials will greatly determine that of the final product.

The safety and final quality of your finished products depend highly on the quality of your raw materials. A strict inspection would always benefit a food business as it ensures that you can use all shipped ingredients without causing food poisoning. As part of your food safety management system, your team must know when should you refuse to accept food in a shipment and on what grounds rejection should be based.

Similar to how we meticulously inspect foods at home, inspection in food establishments must be as strict, if not stricter. Food suppliers must be held liable for the safety of the foods they ship. High food safety standards must be communicated and upheld at all times. Under the Food Safety Modernization act rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, suppliers and food processors must keep foods safe from contamination during shipment.

Use this detailed article to decide whether to accept or reject a shipment made by a supplier.



When should you refuse to accept food in a shipment?


What is the first thing you must do when receiving a delivery?

When receiving a delivery from a food supplier, the first thing that the food handler in charge must do is to check whether the shipment is correct with what is expected. This step reduces the unnecessary subsequent steps of inspection such as product testing and safe temperature monitoring if the shipment is wrong.

Food items must only be received at designated areas to prevent cross-contamination and keep customers safe. This area must not be used to receive nonfood items such as cleaning chemicals and equipment.

Make sure that the food shipped to your food establishment is correct and up to standards by requesting the necessary food safety documents. Countercheck the shipment by performing a visual observation. 

A trained food handler must be assigned to perform the verification task. This employee must be trained on what to inspect with food safety documents, how to perform on-site observations, and must be able to quickly make decisions in case of non-compliance. They must also be well-informed on which conditions affect food logistics.


What to do if your food shipment is spoiled? 

In case the shipped foods are spoiled, the assigned food handler must take charge and perform the necessary steps needed to return the shipment. Upon detection of spoiled foods, it is the assigned food handler's responsibility to document the situation and create the necessary reports to support the return decision. 

When rejecting a shipment, food handlers cannot just send back the products without proper documentation and a basis for the decision. After providing the supplier with a notice, a thorough investigation must be done to assess the root cause of the spoilage. 

Suppliers provide specific requirements in case of returns. Make sure that you have communicated your demands before agreeing to these. Some of the common documentation works that you may need may include the following:

  • Shipment information 
    • Vehicle plate number and driver
    • Date and delivery time
  • State of products upon arrival
    • Pictures of products
    • Food handler description
  • Food handler assessment of the situation 
    • Reason for rejecting the shipment
    • Documentation of any non-compliance

The mentioned documents may also be required if you return a shipment for other reasons. In case pieces of evidence of cross-contamination or non-compliance to strict standards are present, your food handler in charge may decide whether to accept in part or return the shipment. Proper documentation and proof are keys to a seamless transaction and prevent further problems during shipping. 


food shipment documentation


What should you do if the food shipment has been kept at the wrong temperature?

The first thing to do when a food shipment arrives above the required food storage temperature is to notify the supplier. Correct temperature for storage is one of the most important factors when it comes to shipments. Delivering foods held at the temperature danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C), increases the risk of food spoilage and causing food poisoning.

At most, highly perishable foods can only stay at this temperature range for two hours. Beyond this point, foods become more prone to spoilage. If the food shipment has already stayed at this temperature range, it will have a shorter shelf life under your care and is more likely to cause foodborne illness.

Using a properly calibrated food thermometer, the assigned food handler must check the temperature of the shipped foods. Additionally, the built-in appliance thermometer of the delivery vehicle must also be verified. All accurate temperature readings must be recorded for reference and proof in case of non-compliance.

Your food safety team reserves the right to reject the delivered food in case it was delivered at the wrong temperature provided that you have the necessary proof and documents.

Use the receiving temperature log to monitor temperature and other essential information about the food shipments.


What temperature should food shipments be?

In general, time and temperature control for safety foods (TCS) or highly perishable items must be shipped below 40°F (5°C). This temperature range holds for foods such as raw meat food products, poultry, vegetables, and fruits. 

For foods that are meant to be frozen when delivered such as fish and seafood intended to be eaten raw, the food items must be delivered at 0°F (-18°C) or below. This temperature ensures that the food products stay fresh and that the growth of pathogens is prevented. In such cases, check for signs of freezer burn as this may affect the quality of products, especially for fish and seafood.

Although the supplier's truck is required to have a thermometer on board, food handlers must always verify the delivery temperature.


What temperature should delivery of frozen food be rejected?

In case of delivery of frozen foods above the recommended temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or below, your team may reject delivery. Similarly, foods delivered within the temperature danger zone must be immediately rejected. Frozen foods must be delivered to your establishment in a frozen solid state.

Signs of thawing and refreezing are also grounds for rejecting deliveries as this is considered time-temperature abuse. In case foods were thawed during delivery, potentially existing foodborne pathogens may grow to unacceptable levels and hasten spoilage.

Other signs of unacceptable shipment include frozen liquid and stains on the packaging. Big ice crystals and fluid stains at the bottom of the crate or packaging material may be indicative of thawing at some point. Similarly, discolored meats may mean that the frozen meat food products have already come in contact with air.


FoodDocs food safety system-1


When should you refuse to accept food in a shipment?

Shipped foods must be refused if delivered with poor quality, damaged packaging, under wrong temperature conditions, and when documents are incomplete. Refusing to accept food shipments under these factors help protect your consumers from foodborne illnesses, and your food business from safety issues.

Any sign of tampering and food spoilage must be dealt with with urgency and given priority. If food handlers are not trained to conduct proper inspections, the risk of accepting potentially hazardous foods increases. Aspects of food safety when it comes to storage, handling, and delivery are top priorities when it comes to receiving food supplies.


Checklist for safe food shipment

Before ordering or forming a contract with a supplier, your team must decide on the parameters that you must check upon receiving the shipments of food. There are many points that need to be inspected with shipments and a food handler in charge must be well-trained to detect any problem.


Checklist for safe food shipment_C_and_F

To help you detect any food safety non-compliance, here is a list of things that need to be checked to ensure food shipment safety:


Check the holding temperature

As previously mentioned, storage temperature during delivery is perhaps one of the most important factors. Foods must be shipped at the most optimal conditions to avoid the unwanted growth of bacteria and other pathogens. 

Use a properly calibrated thermometer to monitor the temperature of shipped foods. Follow this set of conditions for receiving food:

  • TCS food must be received chilled at 40°F (5°C) or below.
  • Raw eggs in shell and milk must be received at 45°F (7°C) or below. (Milk must be chilled down to 40°F (5°C) or below upon receiving).
  • Frozen foods must be received frozen solid with no signs of thawing and exposure to air.
  • Delivered hot foods must be at 135°F (57°C) and above

To be able to get accurate temperature readings, food handlers must also be trained on how to take food temperatures. Surely, foods packed flat and round need different methods.

For flat packages, insert the thermometer in between two packages to detect the surface temperature. Never puncture the food packages as it may cause contamination. Ensure that the sensor probe touches the food item.

Always make sure that your food thermometer is sanitized before using it.


food shipment safety


Check the integrity of food packaging

Any signs of external damage such as tears, punctures, pest damage, broken seals and holes are grounds for rejection. Similarly, do not accept foods that are not properly labeled, have no date markings, or are visibly unsanitary. Dirty packaging may cause cross-contamination with other raw materials. Inspect packages for damage thoroughly as they may sometimes be hard to detect.

Some tests such as water immersion of packed foods are done to determine the integrity of packaging materials. Establish regular monitoring procedures for your shipments.

Punctured packaging materials may be indicative of contamination and make foods more prone to causing foodborne illnesses. For hard foods such as canned products, check for the presence of bloated cans which is a sure sign of bacterial contamination and gas formation. Decide whether any present dents are critical or non-critical for rejection.

Similar to how foods must be stacked in a refrigerator, food deliveries must also be arranged properly in a delivery truck. Mixing raw and ready-to-eat foods increases the risk of cross-contamination.


Inspect food quality

Food handlers in charge must be properly trained on how to spot spoiled or substandard food shipments just by looking at the appearance of food. Remember that the safety of any of your finished products is highly dependent on the quality of your raw materials.

Food handlers must inspect the foods and reject restaurant deliveries in case of the following observations:

  • Rotten, acidic, or abnormal smell. Including the unpleasant smells of meats
  • Presence of condensation in dry foods
  • Presence of slime on meat
  • Freezer burn
  • Abnormal color on fruits, vegetables, and meats
  • Visible signs of pest damage and pests
  • Visible yeast or mold growth
  • Mushy texture

Some products may have very particular parameters that should be checked. For example, when receiving raw shell eggs you must reject the delivery if they have an unusual odor and if they were delivered with a shipment temperature within the temperature danger zone. 

Another example is cooked products. Roast beef cooked at 350°F (177°C) and transported to a restaurant must be received at 135°F (57°C) as the minimum hot holding temperature.


Require food safety documents 

Food safety documents are essential during food shipment. These documents serve as proof of the supplier's conformance to your food safety standards and requirements. Specifications and results of appropriate analytical tests performed on food must be available to ensure that foods are safe for consumption.

Information such as date of manufacture, expiry date, ingredient declaration, presence of allergens, lot codes, and proof of nutritional claim must be collected from the supplier. 


require food safety documents


What are the three conditions that would result in rejecting a shipment of fresh poultry?

Poultry and poultry products are considered highly perishable and very prone to contamination. This raw material is most especially linked with Salmonella which is considered one of the most prominent foodborne illness-causing pathogens. As such, an inspection of poultry products must be based on high standards.

Here is a list of when should a shipment of fresh chicken be rejected:

  • Discoloration on chicken. Do not accept shipments of poultry with purple or green colors around the neck.
  • Presence of slime or stickiness on the skin and around the joints
  • Unpleasant odor

These characteristics of spoiled poultry are usually the result of storage within the temperature danger zone. It wouldn't matter if the poultry products were loaded fresh if the delivery conditions are not optimal.

Fresh poultry should be rejected when any of the abovementioned scenarios are present. Immediately document the situation and inform the supplier.

Standards for accepting meat

With meat, you would want your raw materials to be as fresh as possible. Immediately reject meat shipments that have an unpleasant odor, signs of discoloration, or any visible mold growth.

Fresh meat must be bright red. Pale red meat is a sign of over-exposure to air. Additionally, meats must always be delivered at a temperature of 40°F (5°C) to ensure that the growth of unwanted bacteria is well controlled.


What is a sign you should reject a fish delivery?

In case your restaurant fish delivery has just arrived, immediately alert the food handler in charge. Reject fish delivery meant to be eaten raw such as in sushi or sashimi if the shipment did not arrive frozen solid. 

Reject fish delivery if items were shipped with a holding temperature above the recommended cold holding conditions. Additionally, do not accept fish delivery with an unpleasant smell, pale gills, cloudy eyes, and mushy meat.


a sign you should reject a fish delivery


How to check food shipments for damage?

The key to accurately detecting damage in food shipments is to properly train food handlers who will be assigned to receive the products. The assigned food handler must have adequate knowledge of non-compliances that will merit the rejection of shipments. Managers must provide an adequate food safety training program on receiving food handlers.

They must be meticulous enough to detect whether the shipment is fresh or not and if the packaging is in good condition. Food handlers must also be aware of signs of thawing, tampering, or potentially risk-causing defects.

Your team must have an adequate food safety checklist for receiving food shipments. In addition, you must also have a complete monitoring form for documenting the necessary information during shipment.

Use our digital Food Safety Management Solution to help you inspect and document all needed information for receiving products. With our digital solution, you can save more time from managing your food safety operations and focus on other aspects of your food business.


What is a sign that food should be rejected at the loading dock when receiving it?

Perhaps the surest sign for rejecting a shipment when receiving is the poor quality of food. As mentioned, the safety and quality of your finished products are highly dependent on whether the materials you used are fresh or not. 

If you use stale or low-quality meat, you cannot expect to produce safe and great-tasting dishes. As such, signs of spoilage and low-quality products must be tell-tale signs for food handlers to reject a shipment.


Managing food shipment with FoodDocs

Food shipments play a significant role in every food establishment. Suppliers deliver your raw materials right to your business without having to send employees yourself to buy the ingredients. The task regarding food shipments is to ensure that the delivered products comply with your level of food safety standards

Before, you needed to write everything yourself after every observation manually. In addition, with the many food deliveries you get in a week, your monitoring forms tend to pile up, making it harder to organize your documents.

Luckily, our team of experts at FoodDocs has developed an innovative digital solution for food businesses! With our digital Food Safety Management System, you can easily monitor your shipments and organize everything in central storage.


When you use our digital solution, you can get the following benefits:

  • Our digital solution features a Receiving Chilled Goods monitoring form. This automatically generated digital monitoring form can help your food safety team log important information during shipment receiving. Use this log to report any non-compliance with the shipment. With this log, you can easily document and communicate any food safety issues from the shipment with other departments and the supplier.

Receiving chilled goods FoodDocs

Receiving chilled goods monitoring log from FoodDocs


  • You can get automatically generated monitoring forms equipped with an auto-fill feature to help your team achieve greater accuracy. All that is left to do is to verify the logged information, which is based on your previous data entries.
  • Get detailed instructions on how to perform food safety tasks and monitoring procedures for every monitoring log our system generates. With this feature, onboarding and food safety training can become more efficient.
  • Get a smart reminder using our mobile app equipped with an intuitive notification system. With this feature, your food handlers will get alerts whenever a food safety task such as temperature control or scheduled food delivery is due.

In addition to benefits that will help your food employees, our digital solution can also help managers control food safety operations more effectively.

  • Our digital Food Safety Management System only requires an average of 15 minutes to generate a comprehensive digital FSMS for you.
  • To help you manage your services, our system offers a food safety dashboard that will give you an overview of your everyday operations. Use this feature to identify areas that need more attention.
  • Compile and organize all your digital documents in cloud storage provided with our digital solution.

The whole process of generating a digital FSMS using our solution is super easy. All you need to do is answer a few basic questions that will describe your operations to our system. Using artificial intelligence and a machine learning program, our digital solution can automatically generate all essential food safety documents for you.

If reading these features is not enough, maybe trying our services yourself will help you appreciate them more. Use our free, 14-day trial to experience how our digital Food Safety Management System can help you maintain compliance more efficiently.



Similar posts