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What drivers need to know about upcoming food safety rules that will affect trucking

By on January 1, 2016

Periodically, the news features frightening stories of foods recalled because they carry some bacteria, like salmonella or E. Coli, that can cause serious illness. This year, food safety rules are planned that will have in impact on the trucking industry. Road King spoke to Jon Samson, Executive Director of ATA’s Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference, about the upcoming rules.

Q What is the big issue that drivers transporting food need to learn more about for 2016?

A In 2011, the President signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law. The base of that law focuses on the manufacturing, handling and processing of food, which is where a lot of foodborne illnesses originate — we’ve seen salmonella in peanuts and cucumbers in recent years, for example.

The FDA wanted more oversight on the places where food is most vulnerable, and that is usually when it is handled in its raw state and during processing. There are seven sections of the law, and the sixth one, which is scheduled to be finalized in March 2016, is the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food. It focuses on the shipper’s contract with its carrier, to be sure there is no adulteration during transportation. That may relate to temperature control, proper equipment, training in how to handle products and cleanliness of the trailer. The rules will go into effect 60 days after publication. Larger carriers will have one year to comply; smaller carriers will have two years.

Q Will that require an investment in new equipment?

A The shipper is ultimately responsible for conveying their needs for safe food transportation to the carrier, and with new rules in effect, they will want to know more about how the product is being transported. We have a good idea of what the final rule will include and don’t think it will require carriers to have specific equipment or technology. But, we do expect that pressure will come from shippers to carriers to upgrade or update equipment or technology.

Q What does your group see as a possible negative impact for carriers in the guidelines under consideration?

A It has been our goal to make sure that the rule does not include unnecessary burdens on carriers. We don’t want them to spend too much time on things like excessive record-keeping or additional training that doesn’t apply to the product they are transporting.

While we agree that there should be record-keeping ability in place so information can be provided when needed, it’s not necessary to keep 12 months of records sitting in a back room. A large, tech-savvy carrier may have the resources to install units in their vehicles that download temperature records directly to their main office. But smaller carriers might have manual recording units, or units that are not connected directly to their office and will need to use a third party to download information. That is an expensive process, plus it involves downtime.

Similarly, any training should fit the product. A driver probably needs more training to transport refrigerated fresh fish than barley for animal feed, and it should be the job of the shipper or manufacturer of the food to convey how they want it transported. That should stay within the industry rather than be dictated by the FDA.

Q What about the owner-operator who has just one or two trucks?

A There is an exemption for smaller carriers with less than $500,000 in gross annual revenue. On the surface you can see that as a small business exemption. But a shipper, knowing that larger carriers must adhere to a set of stringent rules, may be hesitant to go to carriers who do not have to adhere to those same rules. For that reason, some groups have opposed the exemption.

Quite a few comments have been submitted suggesting alternatives if the exemption is not eliminated. Organizations working with ATA are trying to put together documents of best practices for carriers to follow, so they won’t need their own law firm to figure out compliance. These documents can be shown to shippers, spelling out the rules the carrier adheres to.

Q It seems like common sense that all involved parties consider food safety a priority. What is the main concern of your group?

A In 1990, the Department of Transportation had oversight over food transportation, but since they did not know about food, that oversight was transferred to the FDA in 2005. The FDA doesn’t know transportation. We wanted to be sure that the industry standpoint was known. ATA submitted comments stating the fact that there are approximately 85 million shipments of food a year. Looking back at the past 36 years, there are only four incidences of food-borne illness that were related to transport. We transport food safely and efficiently, so let’s avoid upsetting the apple cart by trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

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