In an era of increased food safety regulation, transporting produce has gotten a lot more complicated than simply shipping product from Point A to Point B, brokers say.
Paperwork, timing and data tracking are playing more important roles in the industry.
"I can tell that the salesmen of produce are doing a lot more on their part to ensure that before they go hunting for a truck that the stuff is going to be ready," said Cole Stoiber, operations and marketing representative with Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Transportation Services.
New rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act now emphasize that product doesn't have to wait to be picked up, Stoiber said.
"It makes it easier for us to broker," Stoiber said. "It's more work for some of them, but as the broker, we're calling shippers to verify (the product will be ready) before we send the truck."
As of December 2017, truck operators will be required to use electronic logging devices. They also will have to maintain documentation for their own or their carriers' files.
All in all, the business of trucking produce rolls on, Stoiber said.
"Guys with e-logs, as long as they plan their evening as they should and get to the shipper with fresh hours, we're all right," he said.
Challenges could materialize during busy harvest seasons, however, Stoiber said.
"In Florida and Georgia, when they're packing and shipping so much stuff, it may take time and you just have to verify - call the day of and get a good idea (of when product will be ready for pickup) before you dispatch the truck," he said.
Adjusting to the changing regulatory landscape is no snap, but the industry will manage, said Kenny Lund, vice president of support operations with La CaÃ±ada Flintridge, Calif.-based Allen Lund Co.
"At this point, transportation is still digesting the rules, and we're seeing some new language," Lund said. "There's a lot of good work being done."
The United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association have lent their regulatory expertise to help trucking companies adjust, Lund said.
There also are potential legal concerns to sort out, he said.
"Probably my biggest concern is lawyers representing each side tend to try to push all the liabilities that they shouldn't be transferring because of FSMA," he said. "We're seeing it show up in how contracts are done."
Lund said, for example, not everyone understands that FSMA doesn't require a truck washout before every load.
Overall, though, the new regulations are leading to enhanced communication between parties along the supply chain, Lund said.
"The good thing is it is introducing some conversations in advance on how transportation is to be done for different customers, and that's a good thing, ahead of issues. So we welcome that," he said. "I think the better players are paying attention and working hard to understand it and get information to the carriers."
Brokers are playing an important role in strengthening that line of communication, Lund said.
"The bulk of produce is carried by companies with 20 trucks going out, so it's the brokers that are helping shippers to translate that," he said. "You need to make sure it's clean, operating properly, properly precooled. That was already industry best practices, but now it's getting into contracts and getting more serious."
The loader and driver also are part of the conversation, Lund said.
"They need to make sure the handoff of the product is done properly. Their roles have been elevated, which I like," Lund said.
The new regulations also are codifying practices that are familiar to produce handlers, Lund said.
"They're making people think about what their best practices are and to really put that down to where it was may have been just verbal before," he said.
There also are some innovations coming to the fore, Lund said.
"We're seeing people take more pictures and videotaping the loading and using that as their documentation. And there's definitely more interest in load and temperature tracking live," he said. "That solves a lot of responsibility when you have live temperature tracking."