Keeping food and beverage products safe as they travel through the supply chain is no easy feat. With so many different factors to consider—from perishability of products, to mode optimization, to temperature and handling requirements—food shippers concerned with avoiding contamination during transit have their work cut out for them.

Though it’s hard to measure exactly how many food safety failures are directly attributable to transportation, investigations indicate that it’s often the root cause of failure.  According to conservative estimates, the financial impact of transportation-related food safety failures is more than $2 billion annually, and some believe that this number is vastly underreported (Food Safety Magazine).

Food safety failures typically fall into one of three categories (Food Safety Magazine):

  • Sabotage and Tampering. This includes any intentional contamination of food products by biological, chemical, physical, or radiological hazards to cause harm.
  • Temperature Abuse. If temperature controls are not maintained properly during transit, food products are susceptible to microbiological growth, or harmful bacteria.
  • Cross Contamination. This occurs when harmful microorganisms are transferred from one product to another, often via pallets, trailers, or containers that haven’t been properly cleaned.

Regarding temperature abuse, check out this past blog post: Are Your Shipments Safe from Temperature Violations?

FSMA: A Step in the Right Direction

As part of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the rule on “Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food” provides freight transportation and logistics stakeholders with a more standardized playbook for preventing food contamination.  The rule outlines several new requirements, including:

  • Vehicles and other transportation equipment must be adequately cleaned and capable of maintaining temperatures necessary to transport food safely.
  • Operational measures must be taken to ensure adequate temperature controls and prevention of cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods, food items and non-food items, and allergens.
  • Carrier personnel must be trained in sanitary transportation practices.
  • Food safety procedures, agreements, training measures, and actions taken to rectify failures must be documented.

The Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule takes effect for large businesses on June 1, 2017 and for small businesses on June 1, 2018.

Challenge Your Transportation Providers and Enforce Proper Loading

So how do you avoid problems like cross contamination, food tampering, temperature violations, or unsanitary pallets on trucks?  Here are some tips for vetting carriers and third-party logistics providers for FSMA compliance, and making sure your own loading techniques are up to par.

  • First and foremost, make sure your provider is well-versed in the FSMA and has concrete compliance measures in place.
  • Ask what real-time temperature traceability systems they offer, which may include a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID), GPS capabilities, sensors for transmitting temperature data, and more.
  • Find out if they’ve taken food defense measures like installing tamper-evident locks, training employees to identify vulnerabilities, or conducting regular inspections.
  • Opt for plastic pallets with electronic sensors rather than wooden pallets. From a food safety perspective, wood is an unacceptable material. It’s a hotbed for bacteria and cannot be thoroughly cleaned.
  • Prioritize pallet loading by shelf life, with the shortest-shelf-life pallet at the rear of the truck.

By taking these preventative measures, shippers will reduce their susceptibility to expensive product recalls or rejected loads, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $80,000 per load (Food Logistics).

For more tips, check out this past blog post: Why You Should Invest in a Food Safety Culture.

Don’t let transportation be your downfall.  Recognized as a Food Logistics Top 100 3PL three times since 2013, we understand the importance of FDA compliance, strict temperature controls, constant visibility, and the costly nature of unreliable service. We partner with the most reliable carriers in the industry, who are FSMA compliant, have real-time temperature traceability capabilities, and regularly assess food defense vulnerabilities.

Whether you’re shipping poultry, fresh fruit, or ice cream, we’ll make sure your customer relationships are not jeopardized due to mismanagement of your products during transit.