February 10, 2014 3:45 AM, EST

FDA Proposes Tougher Food-Shipping Rules Aimed at Reducing Risk of Contamination

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Feb. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a proposed rule that will toughen the requirements for truckers carrying food, as well as shippers and receivers.

The 120-page proposal, mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act, will help reduce the likelihood that conditions during transportation can lead to illness or injury, Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said in a statement.

Although many carriers already have taken measures called for in the proposed rule, FDA officials said that in past decades, there have been “isolated incidents” of outbreaks and illnesses caused by the contamination of food due to unsanitary transportation practices.

“While we expect small changes in behavior [in the form of safer practices], we do not anticipate large-scale changes in practices as a result of the requirements of this proposed rule,” the proposal said.

“Nevertheless, improving food transportation systems could reduce the number of recalls, reduce the risk of adverse health effects related to such contaminated human and animal food and feed, and reduce the losses of contaminated human and animal food and feed ingredients and products,” the proposed rule said.

Food haulers have had previous FDA guidance dating back to 2005 that already largely has established best industry safety practices when transferring food “from the farm to the fork,” said Jon Samson, executive director of American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference.

Samson said FDA is seeking to strengthen regulatory requirements in three major areas:

• Making sure food hauled in refrigerated trucks is transported at the proper temperature.

“There have been some issues from state to state as far as someone transporting the food, and for saving gas purposes, they would turn their refrigeration unit off and then turn it back on before they got to their destination,” Samson said.

• A requirement that any trailer prior to hauling food is properly cleaned and sanitized.

• Ensuring that food comingled in a trailer with nonfood items is kept separate to avoid cross-contamination.

Jim Subler, president of refrigerated hauler Classic Carriers Inc., Versailles, Ohio, said that although the major thrust of the rule is clear, it’s uncertain how the agency will interpret some of its provisions.

“It’s a typical government thing,” Subler said. “Common sense goes out the door, and we suddenly have rules 28 miles deep that how are we supposed to react to and stay in compliance with?”

“One that scares me is the recording of the temperatures,” Subler added. “What is that going to mean? And number two, the cleanliness. Who’s the inspector on the cleanliness?”

Food carriers and shippers that have total annual sales less than $500,000 are excluded from the rule, FDA said. In addition, the requirements would not apply to the transportation of fully packaged, shelf-stable foods, live food animals and raw agricultural commodities transported by farms.

FDA estimated that more than 83,000 firms would be subject to the rule and that it would collectively cost those firms $149 million the first year after the final rule becomes effective.

The agency is seeking comment on the proposal though May 31.

The proposed rule will be discussed at three upcoming public meetings: Feb. 27 in Chicago; March 13 in Anaheim, Calif.; and March 20 in College Park, Md.