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Required or Recommended?

Does the FDA expect you to comply with the Sanitary Transportation Rule?

Talking to people about trailer sanitation often brings to light some of the misunderstandings about the FDA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule (STR.) Because the rule can apply to folks in trucking, packing and shipping, loading, and receiving, here at Healthy Trailer LLC we try to have conversations with people working all along the supply chain, hoping to help them understand and comply with the transportation specific part of FSMA.

Most often the temperature requirements of safe food transportation are acknowledged and practiced. However, when the subject of ‘clean and sanitary’ transportation comes up, people are more resistant and often unwilling to accept the fact that the government is now requiring as part of its overall protection of the food supply chain that food should transported in clean trailers.

Here’s the question: Is the FDA’s STR a requirement or a recommendation?

Some companies have made it clear, at least to us when we call to introduce our trailer sanitation service, that it does not matter how the government classifies the rule. Unless their customers ‘make’ them, meaning that the customer requires a washout in a written contract, then they won’t get it done unless it is obviously dirty (sight or smell.)

But other companies are taking compliance seriously, so they want to be clear about whether the government is requiring or recommending compliance to the STR.

Starting with Merriam’s definitions of both words can be helpful. Required means “stipulated as necessary to be done, made or provided, as if by law.” Synonyms include ‘compulsory, forced, imperative,... involuntary, mandated, necessary.’ Words related to required, according to Merriam, are ‘all-important, essential, indispensable, needed’ and so on.

What about recommended? ‘To put forward (something) as one’s choice for a wise or proper course of action.’ Among the synonyms are ‘advise, counsel or suggest.’ A few related words like ‘favor, support, urge, support’ seem to take us far away from the FDA’s intent of making sure the food transportation system is safe. Nothing in those words imply action or a focused attention on ensuring food transportation practices prevent food from becoming unsafe during transportation.

Most of the government’s recommendations appear to be related to personal behaviors that affect our health such as physical exercise, diet, nutrition and even sleep.

Now, we all know that when there is a requirement (law) in place to govern our public behavior, depending on what it is, compliance increases when the risk of getting caught is the greatest. Setting the big stuff aside (for example, murder, robbery, arson,) laws that govern our public behavior, like traffic regulations, are more tempting to ignore.

But non compliance with the rule doesn’t turn it into a recommendation. Can a person who has been stopped for a speeding violation convince the cop that the speed limit is unreasonably low and therefore it’s acceptable to ignore it?

What about governmental guidelines? The FDA has written very helpful guidelines to help companies comply with its food safety requirements. Their intent, by way of providing information, is to move people into full compliance with the standards. The availability of these additional resources indicate that the government acknowledges that compliance with these food safety regulations are complicated, complex and challenging.

So back to where we started, is FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule a requirement or a recommendation?

Here are five reasons that show compliance is required.

  1. Start with the fact that this rule is one of seven other FSMA rules.

  2. Acknowledge that none of the other FSMA rules are optional or merely a recommendation.

  3. Two of the primary goals in FSMA is to be proactive and preventative. This same objective is stated throughout the STR.

  4. It’s common sense. Food that has been produced under safety regulations should be transported in clean and sanitary conditions under proper temperatures.

  5. FSMA is a supply chain regulation. Suppliers and vendors that provide services and products all must comply with requirements to prove that their part in the supply chain will not expose the food to risks. Why wouldn’t the FDA expect transportation vendors and suppliers to comply with the same level of security and safety that it requires all along the supply chain?

Is the FDA checking for compliance with the STR? ‘Word on the street’ is that the focus is still on educating the food transportation industry. We have heard that if the FDA is inspecting for other FSMA compliance, then the transportation piece may also be subject to scrutiny. And it sounds like the DOT has the authority during road inspections to ask about FSMA compliance.

In closing, it is worth mentioning that by looking at the history of food safety standards, particularly in America, people who choose to ignore the risks and the rules when compliance is required end up either out of business, in prison, or with a serious black eye to their brand. On the other hand, when complete compliance is a priority, even if it is not yet perfect, companies can withstand difficult challenges to when a food safety crisis arises.

Here at Healthy Trailer LLC we don’t argue with folks when they insist that a clean and sanitary trailer is only recommended or suggested. The good news is that this is an area that companies are now starting to see as vital to their overall food safety plans as well as the quality of the food they sell to their customers.

If you eat a salad or have strawberry shortcake or eat anything, if you think about it, I bet you hope it traveled in a clean and sanitary trailer!

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