In September 2018, the final piece of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will be enacted, affecting businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenue. Originally signed into law in 2011, FSMA represented the largest reform to food safety in more than 70 years.
The regulation is designed to ensure that food is transported safely to its destination and codifies processes that were previously considered best practices, but were not enforceable under a law.
The ruling was initialized in April 2017 for companies with $27 million or more in annual revenue. It went into effect for companies with less than $27 million in April 2018. The final piece of the ruling will include many small fleets.
For fleets, a central component of the regulation is to monitor and report on the temperatures inside their refrigerated vehicles and demonstrate accurate temperature readings at any given time. In response, fleet operators are looking for new tools to automate this process and stay compliant.
The FSMA is the result of several incidents, including the 2011 salmonella outbreak, which highlighted the need for change.
“You can talk to just about any road officer and they could tell you about the time they pulled over a dry van in 100-degree heat that was hauling perishable food that shouldn’t have been transported over 35 degrees. There was a lot of that going on,” says Tom Bray, industry consultant for JJ Keller & Associates Inc.
Prior to the ruling, the FDA did not act in an enforcement capacity for rules violations. According to Bray, shippers are now taking extra steps to avoid a situation in which a load goes bad and the FDA comes knocking on their door.
“There are many compliance issues, including contamination, cross contamination, and ensuring that food is segregated,” Bray says. “Shippers are now adding language to their agreements with the carriers that previously weren’t there but have always been considered a best practice.”
Carriers may also have to abide by more extensive and specific requirements put in place by shippers, such as requiring that units show up precooled before picking up shipments. Shippers may require that the carrier document that it was precooled prior to arrival.
The obligations under the FSMA outlined above are nothing new for many reputable shippers and carriers who have previously adopted these practices.
“Most shippers already had policies in place prior to the ruling, where carriers that didn’t meet the shipper’s requirements based on their agreement couldn’t haul for them,” says Bray. “This rule made it official and it now has the power of law and regulation behind it.”
Keeping Electronic Records
The FSMA does not define the frequency or method carriers must use to record their temperatures. Although shippers may require their carriers to implement real-time temperature monitoring systems, other methods include having drivers manually record the box temperatures at certain intervals or using telematics to communicate back to the carrier or shipper.
The main advantage to remote refrigeration unit monitoring through telematics is that in the event of a unit failure, the system can send an alert in real time even if the driver hasn’t caught it yet.
“Shippers are more comfortable with electronic records because there’s no fudging them, and they can be produced in a matter of seconds,” says Chris Mulvey, vice president of business development for Cooltrax, a temperature control monitoring and reporting products provider. “As a carrier, you don’t want to have one of those ‘oops’ moments where it was your fault in the handling of the product. You want to have the ability to react to it in real-time.”
Manual temperature recordkeeping is less accurate and takes much longer, particularly if something goes wrong and the records need to be produced. According to Mulvey, having an electronic record of temperature takes away the guessing or finger pointing by showing the real temperature in the trailer at the exact time requested.
FSMA Compliance Challenges
Many challenges exist for smaller fleets to ensure they are in compliance. In regard to training, drivers must be made aware of the potential for food safety problems and what can cause food to go bad.
Drivers should also be reminded of the basics of sanitary food transportation practices; for instance, cleaning out, washing, and sanitizing trucks and trailers, keeping their hair covered, and washing their hands. Follow the shipper’s instructions; keep a temperature log if you’ve got a refrigerated unit and take basic steps to ensure food stays safe.
Smaller fleets also tend to run their vehicles and equipment longer and may not have the resources to constantly update and replace them.
“If you’ve got an older refrigerated unit, the shipper can tell you that you need to buy a newer one if you want to keep hauling for them under their agreement,” Bray says. “Suddenly you’re faced with the dilemma of having to spend a ton of money that you may not have.”
Because of the FSMA, carriers now have a solid paper trail in the event a bad load is delivered to the end user. They can prove if a unit was precooled when it was loaded and if it was kept at proper temperature during transit.