The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is, step by step, implementing new rules based on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The goal of these efforts is “to protect foods from farm to table.” The rules fall most heavily on food manufacturers, but they also impact truckers. The deadline for the section of the regulations known as the Preventive Controls for Human Food began this week.
I turned to Jon Sampson to explain these regulations to me. Mr. Sampson is the Executive Director, Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference (AFTC), of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
The ATA has played an active role in advocating for truckers, and the final versions of these rulings are not as onerous as what was initially proposed. Frozen food transport, for example, is exempt. Carriers under $500,000 in annual revenues are exempt. And when it comes to documentation, carriers in temperature controlled supply chains were initially going to be required to provide temperature documents to the FDA. Now they are only required to keep documents that prove that they have a process in place to provide these documents when requested by the shippers.
But most importantly, the responsibility for compliance has fallen mainly on manufacturer shippers who bear greater responsibility for record keeping and training. But, that does not mean these rules only minimally impact carriers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because these shippers are also liable for the decisions they make, they protect themselves, according to Mr. Sampson, by “asking more of their carriers. This is particularly true when transportation contracts come up for renegotiation.” So for example, even though carriers under $500,000 in revenues are exempt from these regulations, shippers concerned about liability are apt to require the same things of these small carriers that they would of larger carriers.
The premise behind putting most of the responsibility on manufacturers is that the manufacturer understands how to keep their products safe better than anyone else in that product’s value chain. It is up to the shipper to specify a checklist for carriers, and carriers to carry out those instructions. The checklist can include making sure refrigeration equipment is running properly, that the requested temperature settings are in place, that the trailer has been cleaned to their specifications, and that drivers have receive what they deem to be the appropriate training.
So for example, one shipper may require that the temperature in the trailer be checked upon loading, and again 200 miles later when it is unloaded. A different shipper may require that the temperature be monitored every 10 minutes by a telematics device connected to sensing equipment in the trailer. What a shipper is requiring of a carrier should also be based upon knowledge of how that carrier operates on that lane. So, for example, a full truckload shipment traveling a short distance might only require checking the temperature at origin and destination. But a less-than-truckload carrier that stops and opens the trailer door 15 times before the food gets to its destination would require more robust monitoring.
It is also up to the manufacturer to decide if truckers need to archive documents proving they have done what they agreed to do. The shipper might decide that those documents only need to be provided in the event of a recall. Or, the shipper might decide to require the carrier to provide documents to the manufacturer or the consignee when the goods are delivered. Or, if they are being super careful, the shipper might require the pertinent documents be electronically uploaded to the manufacturer’s traceability database at several steps along the delivery process.
The communication of shipper requirements is made more complex by the intermediaries that exist in transportation. It may be that a shipper relies a broker to find a carrier. In this instance, the shipper’s requirements must be communicated to the broker who then communicates to the carrier. The FSMA requirements treat brokers and 3PLs the same as shippers.
Even something like how a truck should be cleaned can end up having a great amount of complexity. “A trucker hauling barley out of a field may only be required to broom out the trailer,” according to Mr. Sampson. “But if the barley shipment follows a shipment of peanuts,” which cause allergies for many, “a disinfectant may be required before picking up the barley.” Based on these kinds of issues, another shipper requirement may be that the carrier be able to document the products hauled by the trailer that will carry their load over the past three or four moves.
For the transport of unprocessed meat, a number of different chemicals, or even gas treatments may be required. To eliminate all of the germs, manufacturers need to understand, and then specify, what kinds of disinfectants will kill the types of bacteria that can degrade their food products. Further, each treatment may require a different water temperature be used in the cleaning process to insure one hundred percent of the bacteria are killed. And truckers need to be alert to whether the chemicals specified by manufacturers will damage their trailers. “A chemical used on in a plant with a concrete floor may be fine for the shipper,” Mr. Sampson said, “but cause damage to a trailer.” ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) has formed a trailer washing group tasked with understanding what kinds of treatments could damage trailers.
Clearly, this makes life more complicated for many food carriers. Potentially a trucker with 20 different food shipper clients will be subject to 20 sets of shipper requirements. How should they respond to this? One possibility, according to Mr. Sampson, is to be a carrier with robust safety standard operating procedures and then be able to sell shippers on the robustness of your process. That way the carrier does not have to do as many distinctly different things for each shipper.
But Tom McLeod, the President of McLeod Software, pointed out that better software also becomes increasingly critical to help truckers deal with the variability of shipper requirements. McLeod Software is a provider of transportation management software solutions to the trucking and freight brokerage industry. “Some receivers,” Mr. McLeod said, “may want a report ready at the point of delivery that contains the driver’s training certification, a temperature profile, information on how the truck was precooled and how the trailer’s temperature was maintained, the trailer’s wash ticket, and all of this before they accept delivery.” What is needed are flexible software solutions, solutions with workflows that can extend to encompass multiple parties, and software that is mobility enabled.
Mr. McLeod warns that if carriers have not started getting ready for these regulations, they are already well behind where they need to be. “Carriers will need more than 6 months to get compliant.”