Sometimes, we're our own worst enemy.

You've no doubt heard this said many times, or mumbled it under your breath as you dealt with issues that could easily have been handled more efficiently.

Or, sometimes the issue becomes a chronic problem, one that could have been minimized or avoided altogether. Specifically, I'm thinking about an inbound produce load. So many times I've seen a fully loaded semi back up into the dock and the store is clearly not prepared to handle the task.

When the delivery gets unloaded at a store under these circumstances, it can be ugly.

Space is limited, so the load is parked wherever there's an open slot. Many times this blocks access to needed product, or the congestion is so dire it prevents anyone from going into the backroom. Meanwhile, product that requires refrigeration is left out in warm areas, while chill-sensitive items such as bananas tend to wind up in the walk-in cooler.

Unloading a fresh product load is a project in itself, and requires some planning to make it go smoothly. This goes beyond making sure the labor is scheduled and the electric power jack is charged up.

First, every produce manager and clerk should be aware of when a load is due. As that time draws near, start thinking about where product needs to go and making sure you have room. Not only room to park the load but room so that clerks can maneuver through the backroom area so it doesn't slow the ongoing stocking.

Second, make sure that low-stock items on pallets gets consolidated and stacked aside. Ensure empty pallets are picked up and neatly stacked. This is a good time to get rid of any empty boxes and pick up any debris, such as pallet strapping and all trash, to clear a path for the new load.

Third, with a near-empty backroom and cooler, it's a good time to sweep and mop up any standing water. Not only will this make it easier to unload the produce truck, but it will make it safer too.

Finally, as the delivery gets unloaded, coach your crew to handle things as little as possible. Park full pallets in their normal, destination area. Place everything else in easily accessible areas, and as much as possible unload cold items directly into the cooler. As soon as practical, break down the load and check off the invoice to ensure you received everything.

Then (and only then), take a well-deserved break.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years' experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

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