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Safe Food Transportation Lessons from the Racetrack

Photo Credit: Churchill Downs via The Horse

Photo Credit: Churchill Downs via The Horse

Are your fresh produce carriers a long shot or a solid bet?

Here at Healthy Trailer LLC we have been spending a lot of time talking to people who now need to comply with the FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule. After we explain our trailer cleaning service, we hear everything from, “We need that for sure!” to “No thanks, we’re already set up.” End of discussion.

This means that some people are really taking the rule seriously, and others, well, in their own words, “We’ll do it when they make us.” The truth is that when a shipper or receiver loads their fresh produce into a trailer, they may or may not be complying with the rule, whether they know it or not, unless they have confirmed that the procedures practiced by their carriers are safe and sanitary.

It’s sort of like betting on a horse without knowing the details or factors that will contribute to a win or loss at the finish line.

One of our kids, a recent UC Davis graduate (2017,) is now employed with a huge thoroughbred breeding farm. She came home just before the start of the Kentucky Derby, and so in about 30 minutes, I learned a lot about how to pick a winner.

I picked Mendelssohn, who was not a winner. But that’s because I stuck with my ‘gut.’ I picked my horse based on important things, like its name, its color (I tend toward Bays) and of course, I love a good story. Some horses have been survivors, or trained in ‘ghettos’ compared to the others in the business, or the jockey will make history if they win this race, or…

But Hanna listed criteria such as who bred the horse, who are the sire and dam, where and when it has previously raced, what track type, how it placed in those races, what were the weather conditions, and so on.

On Derby morning, it was wet. Horses can be so weird about changes, so they were concerned about whether a mud splash on his chest would freak Mendelssohn out and distract him from his job. And worse for him, a factor I ignored, was that coming from a foreign country, he had been in quarantine since the day before so had not had the chance to train like the other horses.

The point is, that horses have strengths and weaknesses that make them a good bet, or not. And while there's always a possibility of a ‘long shot’ winning a race, it’s best to go with the odds if one wants to pick a winner.

Many companies shipping fresh produce tend to go with the options that are available at that moment. This makes sense because time is of the essence when in comes to getting product delivered according to schedule and in time to meet the market demands.

The problem is, shipping produce with whoever has the available truck (or sometimes the cheapest,) is sort of like choosing the race favorite based on the color or the story. In other words, a carrier’s strengths and weaknesses are overlooked or ignored.

Safe transportation of fresh produce is now a requirement. Companies who depend on truck transportation to move their fresh produce will greatly protect their product by securing transportation from carriers who take this rule seriously.

How can you pick a winner?

Use the FDA rule to define your transportation plan’s requirements and then evaluate your carriers based on these specifications. Think about what this really looks like in your operation, and then get out and have a look to see if it is really happening. Make sure these outcomes are written, and use them to train your employees, monitor the progress, and audit your team, including your transportation vendors.

Consider the character of your carriers. Quality carriers will be proactive and seek your input. Have they asked for your specifications? And if you have required them to sign a contract about maintaining equipment, monitoring temperature or reporting problems, do they report to you how they are accomplishing this, and include documentation? Do they ask you for feedback?

Here’s another way to think about it. If one of your end customers/consumers look a peek inside the trailers you are loading with your fresh produce, would they be pleased with its cleanliness, or disturbed? Would your pick of a carrier convince your customer that you are complying with FSMA?

Your choice of a transportation vendor is essentially the horse you have to ride across the finish line. If there is a problem with the product, you have to defend their decision on how they managed your product. You don’t want to ride a longshot, or win by a length or a nose. You shouldn’t have the ‘fingers-crossed feeling’ that some of us do when the horses load into the starting gate.

Your carrier selection should be, across the board, a win, place and show. FSMA requires it, your customers expect it, and the people consuming your product are depending on it.

Of course, start with a clean and UV sanitized trailer, only available at Healthy Trailer LLC.

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