FDA to Crack Down on Food Shipping Requirements

On January 31, 2014 the FDA proposed a new food safety rule as a part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that aims to prevent contamination during transport by establishing requirements for sanitary transportation practices. This rule would apply to shippers, receivers and carriers who transport food by motor or rail vehicles.

Specifically, the proposed rule would establish requirements for:

  • vehicles and transportation equipment
  • transportation operators
  • training
  • records
  • waivers

What does this mean for shippers and transporters? Some key aspects of the rule would require shippers to inspect vehicles prior to loading food not completely enclosed by containers (such as fresh produce) and would require time/temperate controls for temperature sensitive foods such as meat, poultry and seafood.

Like other FSMA rules, the implementation of this is long over due. Food transportation is not unlike storage in that food is housed in one spot (trailer or rail car) for extended periods of time. As such, the same measures must be taken to keep food from spoiling or allowing pathogenic bacteria to grow. Another critical area is the cleanliness of the transport vehicles. With allergen sensitivity a major food safety issue, operators need to ensure there is no cross contamination when shipping different types of foods.

Trailers line up at Boston Food Market to load meat and seafood

Under the new rules shippers will also be required to specify in writing the sanitary and temperature control requirements for vehicles and transportation equipment. Carriers hauling food subject to temperature control requirements must be able to demonstrate control for the duration of the transport to shippers and receivers upon request.

Information about previous cargo and cleaning must also be documented and will be subject to record-keeping. This means the FDA can request to see the documents and carriers will be out of compliance if they are unable to produce them. Among other records that will be required will be for training of personnel hauling food cargo and cleaning and sanitizing procedures.

The FDA will allow for waivers for any of the requirements provided that waiving the rules would not result in the transportation of food under conditions that would be unsafe for human or animal health. The proposed rule would not cover shippers, receivers or carriers engaged in food transportation operations that have less than $500,000 in annual sales.

Theoretically, carriers should already be following these rules, since it’s common sense to protect food during transport. In my experience, I’ve seen many examples of truckers who have no regard for sanitary practice. Shippers and receivers shouldn’t have to worry about dirty transport but it has become a critical control point for most companies. Hopefully, with this new rule in place, shippers and receivers can save time, money and prevent contamination by following sanitary practice and temperature control requirements.