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Biofilms and Chemicals: Hidden Dangers in Your Trailer

In our last blog, we shed some light on dock drama caused by the ONE person who can throw a wrench in a loading schedule--the shipping inspector.

One of the most frustrating situations that drivers run into is an inspector’s rejection AFTER the trailer was washed out. Usually this happens because the washout was terrible, meaning that the trailer is still dirty and/or smelly, and not ready for food cargo.

But sometimes this happens because a washout crew applied chemicals to either make the trailer smell clean, or because a customer paid extra money for a sanitizer.

Inspectors can be more troubled by pooling chemicals than they are impressed by the clean smell that a sanitizer produces. And actually, some inspectors have been carefully trained to assume that the ‘clean’ smell means that a chemical residue remains in the trailer.

Let’s delve into the reasons behind this and explore the potential risks involved.

Biofilms and Chemical use:

Biofilms are living communities of bacteria that can include dangerous pathogens (E Coli, Listeria, Salmonella) that attach themselves to dirty surfaces, and then thrive until they are effectively removed.

How are biofilms connected to chemical use?


Chemicals are great if they are used as intended, meaning that they are applied correctly. Most chemical manufacturers provide specific instructions on how much of the chemical should be applied and how long the chemical should remain on the surface.

If a trailer surface is still dirty or contaminated (and remember, bacteria is invisible,) the application of a chemical essentially becomes a barrier that protects the contaminated surface so that whatever bacteria is present will grow, sometimes rapidly.

Chemical presence near food:

Just because a chemical has been approved by the EPA to be used near food production and/or storage areas, this does not mean that a company will be comfortable with the chemical potentially touching or collecting near food products.

Bubbles are good in the kitchen sink and in the bathtub. Not true in a trailer near drain holes or the threshold.

Pooling, puddling, or any visible collection of a chemical is often reason enough to send your driver away from the shipping dock. Many shippers require a washout ticket after this rejection to show that the trailer was washed out… AGAIN. More of your (or your drivers’s) time and money now wasted.

Drivers Beware! We’ve talked to enough drivers to know that most of them have either experienced this problem or have seen it happen to other drivers.

It’s worth their time to take a look in the trailer after the washout to make sure that chemical residue has been removed. The washout facility should be willing to fix the problem, without charge.

Some drivers are either inexperienced or are understandably uncomfortable with confronting the washout crew. They may need some additional training on how to manage these unfortunate circumstances. But it’s better to catch it there at the washout facility than find out there’s a problem at the dock

Get what you already paid for…right?

And speaking of washout receipts, this is what we heard from a driver.

Word on the street is that washout receipts are worth 💰!

Maybe your drivers tell you the same stories, but if a shipping inspector (ya, those guys again) rejects a trailer and requires a washout receipt before they load, what’s the driver supposed to do if the washout service is too far away or closed for the day?

Here’s an idea! Start knocking on truck doors in the shipper’s parking lot to find a driver who is willing to SELL their washout receipts.

This is actually happening. Who would know that in the wild frontier of a shipper’s parking lot, drivers are wheelin’ and dealin’ for that ‘proof of clean.’

As we talked about in the last newsletter, drivers are not always prepared for some of these situations. Washout standards or expectations are rarely posted. Information is passed around by drivers who may or may not have had a problem.

The simplest solution? 💡 Encourage drivers to check in with ‘paper proof’ and a clean trailer.

Oh, btw, at Healthy Trailer we not only give the driver a 1) receipt, 2) a HT Clean Certificate, and…what?? A sticker in the trailer showing the date of the clean too!

Imagine the happiness lighting up that inspector’s eyes when he or she spots this Healthy Trailer Clean sticker just inside the trailer!

Healthy Trailer LLC sticker

You see the HT-0030? If one of your customers needs confirmation that the trailer used to transport their food was clean, we can send you the details of the service for to prove the ‘clean.’

A truck driver’s day is full of distractions and frustrations that challenge and stress the overall loading procedures and schedules. All fresh food transportation, particularly fresh produce, is demanding, so taking simple steps to help drivers mitigate or reduce problems related to trailer health results in money saving and hassle free loading for truck drivers.

Work with your customer carrier, supplier or buyer partners to address these frequent pain points in a driver’s day so that delays and disruptions in shipping schedules can be minimized.

For sure, check out the washout provider’s SOP’s for trailer sanitation. Contact the provider AND ask drivers about the quality of the clean. It’s your money, your time, your trailer and/or your valuable food product so guard your investments.

This blog had a little more food safety science than usual, so if you have any questions or need clarification, please contact us at (833)488-6420 or email us at

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