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  • Pam Young

Hiccup to Heartburn


How Ignoring FSMA’s Safe Food Transportation Rule Can Ruin Your Day

Fresh produce transportation is a constant hiccup. It is truly the nature of the business. There are always details that demand our attention. Lately, anyone that is trying to comply with FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule knows that this regulation adds a new layer of problems to our transportation process, all with the potential of turning any hiccup into logistical heartburn.

The most experienced transportation person using the most organized process can run into problems that quickly turn a typical shipment into an unbelievable nightmare. This is true because no matter the improvements in technology and systems, fresh produce transportation involves managing what nature provides and people can deliver.

Any shipper, receiver or carrier who participates in some way in the shipment of fruits and vegetables knows exactly what I am talking about. On the day we have a truck waiting at a shipping location for a load, it rains, or the wrong product is staged, or the right product is packed under the wrong label or…

On the day that we coordinate with a carrier to send a later truck into the facility because the shipper prefers to load product later in the day, we get a call asking for the truck’s ETA because product is ready, in demand and slightly short, so it is critical to load ASAP.

These are common product issues that can be easily solved with clear communication and serious back up plans. But in the big picture, they don’t get the chance to create massive havoc if and when properly managed.

The heat of heartburn starts when these hiccups are unmanaged and allowed to become serious threats to the outcome of a load. Often it is because a person has either created the situation or has chosen to ignore a problem as it was developing.

This topic of being more careful and diligent in the handling of fresh produce shipments has become even more critical because the consequences of improper management don’t just affect a customer’s timely delivery of product. More seriously, now FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule (STR) places legal accountability on companies to ensure that problems don’t create potential food safety risks when the product is transported.

Many of us who have been involved with transporting fresh produce successfully for a long time may not always see how this rule can affect our business. After all, if we have been moving loads for any length of time, we must be doing it mostly correct, right?

This is mostly correct. But areas of the transportation process that we may have ignored slightly now can have a significant negative impact on our business if compliance to the FDA’s transportation rule does not happen as required.

Here is an example from Healthy Trailer LLC of how former practices are now unacceptable.

Operating in Yuma now for a few weeks, more than a few times we have received a call from a driver after hours asking us to clean a trailer because the shipper saw debris and refused to load it in that condition.

Shippers and loaders are now required under the STR to load only trailers that are ‘clean and sanitary.’ There cannot be questions about whether a trailer has been properly maintained. On most loads they specify shipping temperatures for the safe transport of their product. Dispatches regularly provide pick up and delivery instructions. Under the STR, shippers require that a carrier’s trailer sanitation program includes properly cleaning their trailers.

Soon we will post some information about whether a washout, a ‘broom out’, or leaf blower cleaning is adequate to satisfy your customers and meet the compliance requirements and expectations of FSMA.

Here we are talking about a driver backing into the shipper’s dock with debris or other questionable conditions in the trailer. Often these drivers are sitting in the shipper’s parking lot waiting to be loaded, so there is definitely time to clean, however or wherever they choose to get it done.

This may seem like a ‘hiccup’ to some people. Thinking that if the shipper does refuse to load the trailer late at night, the assumption that the product can be loaded in the morning after a quick washout seems like a simple solution.

But last week, product was tight (and in same cases unavailable,) and very expensive. If another truck arrived prepared to load with a clean trailer, guess who got the product?

This is heart burn city! Few things frustrate and anger a customer more than waking up to the news in the morning that a truck did not get loaded. Getting washouts, or as we say at Healthy Trailer LLC, a trailer sanitation service, does take time. But it’s not optional anymore. It’s the law.

We do believe that Healthy Trailer LLC does provide the best trailer sanitation. But our service is not required by FSMA. What is required is that trailers used to transport fresh produce is that they are clean and sanitary.

If there is any question about a trailer being adequately clean, that is a potential hiccup just waiting to be fired up into a full blown heartburn. Stay in front of the problem and ensure that you have done your part to fulfill this important step in safe food transportation.


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