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Back to School Series - Part 1

Welcome to the first edition of Healthy Trailer’s Back to School series in recognition of Food Safety Education Month.

Why Learn about FSMA Transportation?

September 2022 is here, and with it, for many families, it’s that time of year when the freedom of summer days must give way to schedules and the educational grind of a new school year.

While the return to school in the Fall is traditional and may feel ‘old’, much of what happens during this time is new. New classes, new schools, new teachers, new students, new grades, new rules, and new friends for some students. Returning to school is about navigating the routine of change.

As the Back to School season brings new opportunities to learn and apply knowledge, Healthy Trailer would like to contribute to the education, including our own, of all of us working in different roles in the field of food transportation.

After about five years of talking to people about safe food transportation, it has been our observation that people working in the food and food transportation industries are either not aware of their responsibilities under FSMA, or they feel that as this regulation was written, there is not a specific standard or set of practices that require them, or their companies, to apply accepted food safety science and protocols in their food safety programs.

We believe that at the root of this misunderstanding is a lack of knowledge about food transportation, specifically, the food transport trailer. Much of what happens in a trailer is either unknown or assumed to be non-threatening to the safety of the food being transported in trailers. Exposure to contamination from people, loading equipment, and the cargo is real, and ignoring or disregarding these risks may jeopardize the safety of food.

Some of the material we will cover may be well known, while some of our content may be new. Education is, after all, learning something new, or learning something new about something already learned but maybe forgotten, misunderstood or neglected.

Our overall objective is to bring widespread acceptance and application of well-known food safety science and recognized protocols to food transportation. Or more specifically, to help people expand their food safety programs to include transportation.

Each of our ‘lessons’ in our Back to School series will highlight a person whose work led to the advancement of education and learning about food in general or specifically food safety.

For sure, much has already been written about their specific contributions. But while the light is often shined on the actual contribution such as the science that was discovered, the behavior that needed changing or the new governmental action that instituted change in our food system, the details of why these people were driven to experiment, explore and learn have been sitting in the shadows of their stories.

Perhaps in each of their ‘whys’ lies a valuable lesson that may help us to see opportunities for positive change and give us the motivation, courage and energy to pursue our own contributions to the health and strength of the food supply chain.

As I write this post, yet another foodborne illness E coli outbreak is wreaking havoc in the lives of people on both sides of this latest food safety breach. Sick people and their families are trying to recover and are hoping that this illness does not have life long effects. And the companies involved in putting contaminated product into the food supply chain are frantically trying to manage the fallout that naturally flows from outbreaks.

No doubt, there are questions about how this happened…again. Will this lead to a new food safety discovery or will it show us that we failed to learn an old lesson in cross contamination?

These questions lead us to an introduction of our first ‘person of interest’ in our Back to School instruction: Meet, probably not for the first time, President Abe Lincoln.

Most people connect Abe Lincoln to his legacy related to the Civil War and his overarching passion to keep the Union together. But what is not commonly known about him was that he founded the United States Department of Agriculture.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s article on the USDA website highlights Lincoln’s understanding of the critical connection between the agriculture and the prosperity of the American people. In Lincoln’s opinion, education was one of the best means of ensuring that people would succeed in producing food from our nation’s natural resources.

Two lessons from Lincoln’s life examples:

First, Lincoln used his position and authority to implement change that he considered necessary to improve the lives of the people he served. Believing in the value of education and making it accessible to the people, he embraced his responsibility to make a change.

For us to consider, what can we do to improve the lives of people as it relates to food safety, particularly as it relates to the supply chain, in our jobs and positions? What doors are more open that we think to suggest change and show possibilities, either in our companies or among our peers and industry groups?

The second lesson that we can learn is from Lincoln’s pursuit of his own education. As already noted, it was achieved in pieces. Also, education is not only about content, but equally valuable are the tools of education and study. Not having access to typical resources led him to educate himself through observation, study and connections with people who were willing to invest in his educational pursuits.

Lincoln did not seem to avoid learning just because he could achieve his educational goals down the same avenues available to others. He saw the gaps in his knowledge and experience and took the necessary steps to fill them. Social acceptance or over confidence were not barriers to his continued education.

When we first started developing our Healthy Trailer system, most of my personal experience was in education and truck brokering. Sanitation? Cross contamination? Microbial counts? ATP? Log reduction? Germicidal UV dosages? I was over my head. But I know how to research, and I knew how to find the right people to answer critical questions.

The learning lesson for all of us is…what do we need to learn now? And are we willing to learn it? Have we brought attitudes and opinions into our work experience that are limiting our own progress and development?

So we have President Lincoln for some great education lessons. Now how can we apply this so that Food Safety Education Month has meaning for us in our careers and in our work.?

Specifically, what can we gain from evaluating FSMA transportation from an educational perspective?

I taught school for about thirteen years, I’ve been a mom for about twenty eight years, and I have owned a truck brokerage for over twenty years. Needless to say, I understand the challenges, and the rewards, of teaching and training people.

To keep things simple and hopefully applicable to our food safety education topic, it is helpful to describe the process by identifying typical obstacles that make learning difficult.

Common Roadblocks to Reaching Learning Goals

Obstacle #1: Why do we have to learn (anything)? (General education related)

Adults are too polite to come right out and ask this question. But every year, all year, my students, and my children, seemed to feel zero hesitation in asking me why I was wasting their time with ‘learning’ when they could be doing other things more important to them.

Other than in the Fall when I was trying to get everybody in the ‘back to school’ mode, I didn’t spend much time trying to answer this particular question. Students asking this question in the grades I taught had their minds made up and no amount of examples that might show them how not learning things could backfire later in life.

When it comes to food safety, most people who are working in this field or need to know because of their position/role at their company, they know that learning food safety science concepts and their application will be a forever responsibility.

But, we’ve noticed that there are points along the food safety supply chain such as transportation, that are considered by some people to be ‘low risk’ and therefore not a subject of concern or necessary to learn more about.

Obstacle #2: Why do we have to learn ‘this’? (Content related)

To genuine enquirers, I would ask them what they thought they would like to do when they grew up. You probably had a few people ask you that question. I enjoyed describing the educational path that most likely lied ahead so that they had the opportunity to see how one subject area was related to another, and that often was the stepping stone to the next level of learning.

Relating this back to transportation food safety education, not a small number of professionals who are responsible for their company’s food safety program at various levels have also asked us why we encourage learning about this particular section of the food supply chain.

It’s a legitimate question because up until FSMA transportation became a legal requirement, food transportation was not part of the overall program of keeping food safe throughout the supply chain. We all know (we assume anyway) that the clear purpose of FSMA is prevention, proactively understanding and addressing contamination risks inherent in particular practices that are a necessary part of the supply chain.

The ‘this’ in transportation food safety means that we need to know what the contamination risks are in a food transport trailer, and how and when to adequately clean and disinfect them. This is simply an application of current food safety science in trailers.

Further, knowing about these risks is the start to developing a working transportation plan. The next learning step involves knowing how to mitigate these risks and implementing sanitation standard operating procedures. This means that education will shape better ‘best practices’ that are actually designed to mitigate risks in trailers.

We will be covering more of this specific topic in the next few weeks when we will highlight known scientific principles relating to surfaces and how best to keep cross contamination in check.

Obstacle #3: Why do ‘I’ need to learn this? (Student related)

First thing to note is that depending on the subject area, students, including my own children were willing to learn about things that were relevant to their interests. It didn’t even matter if the material was difficult to learn. They could see the benefit of being educated on the specific topic. On the other hand, if a student could not ‘connect’ the subject content to something that mattered to them, no amount of simplifying, explaining, or diluting would help them learn the material easier or faster.

FSMA transportation?

Why do we (anyone of us working in food and food transportation industries) need to learn about this area of food safety?

Because of its immense relevance to our role in keeping food safe from Farm to Fork. And because its high level of relevance, ignoring or neglecting it not only increases contamination risks to consumers, which should be our primary concern, but it also can be devastating to our company brands, and its financial strength and security.

It’s also worth mentioning that most people want to advance in their careers. Looking at a lack of knowledge about FSMA transportation from a negative perspective, are you comfortable with not knowing how to handle questions about your transportation program if your company is involved in an outbreak?

Putting this in a positive perspective, your willingness to learn about FSMA transportation could be a serious differentiator in your pursuit of a better position or job.

Obstacle #4: Why do I have to learn…from ‘you’? (Teacher related)

Assuming many of you have had children enrolled in a school program, you probably are very aware that all teachers are not created equal. It has been over twenty years since I was a teacher in our city’s elementary school system, so not every memory is crystal clear.

But I do remember the drama at the end of every school year when parents were working furiously to get their kids placed in specific teacher’s classrooms. We had grade level meetings at which we tried to accommodate parent requests, but it didn’t always work out for every family.

The teacher qualifications that mattered most to parents were his or her ability to academically challenge, or not over challenge their students, as well as being of a personable/reasonable character. Giving students opportunities to do fun art, science and history projects were also on some lists.

As my kids went to college, they too got into the habit of reading reviews about work loads, subject matter competence, grading systems and availability for help when things got tough.

Clearly, teachers can make a huge difference in ensuring that students accomplish satisfactory levels of educational achievements. Investing time in learning more about FSMA transportation must result in competence in handling food safety related transportation issues.

Here at Healthy Trailer, we know what we have learned about trailer contamination and sanitation. We know because our business purpose, and our success, is directly connected to our ability to assess risks in trailers so that we can help our customer manage and mitigate risks.

We have experts and specialists in the key areas related to efficient and effective trailer sanitation who help us evaluate situations and answer critical questions related to food safety in general and FSMA transportation specifically.

We believe you can trust us when you are ready to start learning the details of FSMA transportation.

However, as already discussed, teachers are the hub of relevant and successful learning. We encourage you to seek out an expert who knows what we do and is willing to teach and train you.

As stated at the beginning of this article, during Food Safety Education Month 2022:

Our overall objective is to bring widespread acceptance and application of well-known food safety science and recognized protocols to food transportation. Or more specifically, to help people expand their food safety programs to include transportation.

Whoever can help you reach this goal is the teacher you should bring in to help you tighten up your FMSA transportation.

Practice and Closure

All complete lessons include a practice opportunity for students and a closure that ties the lesson all together.

We’ll do both with this closing argument for learning about FMSA transportation:

Abe Lincoln stepped into the accountability and responsibility that comes with being a president.

What can you do in your current position that would help your company, and specifically your team, strengthen your food safety program’s transportation piece? What knowledge and experience do you need to accomplish this goal?

Next lesson due is going to cover the ‘nuts and bolts’ of FSMA transportation.

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