The biggest myth in the produce business; More on coming trucking regulation

09/27/2011 08:26:00 AM
Tom Karst

The latest discussion thread in the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group is this question:  "Finish the thought: The biggest myth in the produce  business is..."

So far just a couple of responses:

Mike: "We All grow and ship the freshest Produce, year round and " and "Can't believe the weather went around my field."

Robert:  "Low prices at retail level are unavoidable." Unfortunately Tesco in the UK has now also joined the "produce must be sold cheap" chapter.

I look forward to a lot more funny and insightful observations from our members. I have to think a little bit more about how I would finish the thought. It might have something to do with the produce industry's overwhelming desire to be regulated.

Speaking of regulation, here is the link to the FDA comments about where they are at in the process of regulating food safety practices for the transportation sector.

From the FDA:

Statement from FDA spokesperson Douglas Karas:

"When developing new regulations, any regulatory agency must be deliberate and methodical. Regulations must achieve their aim, taking into account costs and benefits, and be enforceable, and when drafting them, a regulatory body must have a  good understanding of the specific area to which those regulations will apply.

A set of rules that is not well-informed would likely cause more harm than good. Prior to the passage of the Sanitary Food Transportation Act (SFTA), the FDA did not have a significant role in regulating the transport  of food.

The SFTA gave us a mandate to be much more active in that area, and we have undertaken a multi-step approach to develop the governing rules. First, FDA needed a thorough understanding of the food transportation industry and its potential problems. FDA commissioned a study on that, and it was completed in 2009. The next step was to announce publicly that the rule-making process had started, which would allow the Agency to get input on the rules early on from the public, industry, and our regulatory partners.

This can be a crucial step in drafting comprehensive and enforceable regulations. We published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in April 2010 for this purpose and we gained many helpful comments in the process.

We are currently developing the proposed rule, and we have made this a part of the implementation of  the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to ensure we have seamless integration of all the rules required under that groundbreaking legislation."

The FDA's notice of proposed rulemaking can be found here.

The FDA-commissioned 2009 report from the Eastern Research Group can be found here.  As you can see, the FDA may be busy writing extensive regulations based on the identified problem areas.

From the executive summary:

The Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 reallocated responsibilities for food transportation safety among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).It amends section 402 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) so as to render unsanitary transport adulteration and add a new section 416 of the Act concerning sanitary

transportation practices. Any new regulations will apply to any shipper, carrier that is a motor or
rail vehicle, receiver or any other person engaged in the transportation of food. There is currently very little information on the state of food transportation and holding practices in the United States.

Thus, under contract to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ERG undertook this study designed to characterize the baseline practices in the sectors involved in food transportation, such as refrigerated warehousing and storage, farm product warehousing and storage, deep sea freight transportation, coastal and great lakes freight transportation, inland water freight  transportation, local and long distance general freight trucking, and others.

Through a literature review and expert opinion elicitation, we identified the following 15
problem areas where food may be at risk for microbiological, chemical, and/or physical
contamination during transport and storage:

 Improper refrigeration or temperature control of food products (temperature abuse). These may be intentional (abuse or violation of practices by drivers, i.e., turning off refrigeration units) or unintentional (due to improper holding practices or shortages of appropriate shipping containers or vessels, etc.).

Improper management of transportation units or storage facilities to preclude crosscontamination, including improper sanitation, backhauling hazardous materials, not maintaining tanker wash records, improper disposal of wastewater, and aluminum phosphide fumigation methods in railcar transit.


Improper packing
of transportation units or storage facilities, including incorrect use of packing materials and poor pallet quality.


Improper loading practices, conditions, or equipment, including improper sanitation of loading equipment, not using dedicated units where appropriate, inappropriate loading patterns, and transporting mixed loads that increase the risk for crosscontamination.

Improper unloading practices, conditions, or equipment, including improper sanitation of equipment and leaving raw materials on loading docks after hours.


Lack of security
for transportation units or  storage facilities, including lack of or improper use of security seals and lack of security checks or records of transporters.
Poor pest control in transportation units or storage facilities.

Lack of driver/employee training and/or supervisor/manager/owner knowledge of food safety and/or security.


Poor transportation unit
design and  construction.


Inadequate preventive maintenance for  transportation units or storage facilities,resulting in roof leaks, gaps in doors, and dripping condensation or ice accumulations.


Poor employee hygiene.

Inadequate policies for the safe and/or secure transport or storage of foods.

Improper handling and tracking of rejected loads and salvaged, reworked, and returned products or products destined for disposal.

Improper holding practices for food products awaiting shipment or inspection,including unattended product, delayed holding of product, shipping of product while in quarantine, and poor rotation and throughput.

Lack of traceability for food products during transportation and storage.

As expected, the level of contamination risk posed by the improper transportation and
storage practices noted above varies across food sectors. Raw seafood, raw meat and poultry, and refrigerated raw and ready-to-eat foods have the highest overall risk (in descending order) across all modes of transit followed by eggs and egg  products, frozen foods, and fresh produce. Packaging materials and non-perishables have the lowest overall risk.


In addition to areas where food may be at risk for microbiological, chemical, and/or physical contamination, we also examined the range of preventive controls that may help eliminate/mitigate these risks to food during transport and storage. Our analysis identified the
following seven (7) controls with the broadest applicability across all food sectors and modes of
transport:

Employee awareness and training


Management review of records

Good communication between shipper, transporter and receiver

Appropriate loading procedures for transportation units

Appropriate unloading procedures for transportation units

Appropriate documentation accompanying each load (i.e., tanker wash record, seal
numbers, temperature readings, time in-transit and time on docks, etc)

Appropriate packaging/packing of food products and transportation units (i.e., good
quality pallets, correct use of packing materials)


This study serves as a preliminary assessment of current food transportation and holding
practices for food commodities. Both the lack of literature on the subject and the broad nature of the expert elicitation suggest a need for further study regarding food safety hazards involved infood transportation. In particular, the food transportation industry may benefit from a baseline quantitative assessment of both the frequency and  severity of food safety hazards and the implementation of various safe food transportation practices and preventive controls.

So there you have it.  FDA has their "top men" working on truck regulations as we speak. Considering how long it has taken for these regulations to unfold, I wouldn't be holding my breath, however.

Meanwhile, life is getting no easier for truckers and the supply chain that uses them.

The USDA weekly report on trucking rates reveals that the going rate for a load from California's Kern District to Boston was $7,700 to $8,200 on Sept. 21, up from $7,000 to $7,600 at the same time last year. Diesel prices on Sept. 21 averaged $3.83 per gallon, up from $2.96 per gallon the same time a year ago.



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