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Food for thought from farm to fork

4 steps to protecting perishable foods in transit

Posted May 3, 2024

The month of May brings us the unofficial start of summer, meaning it's time to prepare for rising temperatures all around the country. Food transportation is one of the most important industrial markets because, let's face it, everyone needs to eat!

Keeping perishable (likely to spoil) foods safe during transport is not easy, especially in excessive summer temperatures. A total loss for a load of ice cream may only cost a carrier $75,000, but a load of seafood can be worth half a million dollars or more.

An entire perishable food load could be rejected at delivery for things like:

  • Damaged packaging,
  • Excessive trailer temperatures in transit, or
  • Noticeable residue from a prior load.

Under the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule, the shipper is responsible. The carrier, however, is often held accountable if food becomes unsafe during transportation.

Carriers should document training requirements in their policies and procedures and review them at least annually for relevancy and accuracy. What better time to start than now?

Below are four steps that can help protect perishables during transportation:

Step 1: Before loading — Prepare the trailer

Drivers must haul perishables in a clean, sanitary trailer and in the required temperature range. In addition to presenting a clean trailer at the time of loading, the driver needs to:

  • Verify that the cooling unit can sustain the required temperature range before loading,
  • Confirm if the reefer unit should be run in stop-start or continuous mode,
  • Ensure that certain foods are isolated or segregated to avoid contamination, and
  • Check that the trailer door seals are intact.

Step 2: In-transit — Keep the load in the required temperature range

A lot can happen between the shipper and receiver. The shipper expects the load to arrive at the destination safe for consumption. Drivers must remain vigilant to guard against spoilage. Suggested practices for drivers while on the road include:

  • Checking for fluid leaking from the trailer or other problems with the reefer unit;
  • Monitoring the reefer fuel level, temperature, and function of the refrigeration unit every time the driver stops — or at least every four hours,
  • Communicating any deviation from the safe temperature range for the food; and
  • Minimizing in-transit time within the hours-of-service regulations to reduce the chance of spoilage.

Step 3: At delivery — Document cargo condition

Many times, loads are rejected by receivers due to minor packaging concerns or poor documentation of the load condition, even if the food is safe for consumption. Carriers should train drivers to do the following when they reach the receiver:

  • Check and document the overall condition of the product;
  • Note temperature readings on the paperwork, including the cargo itself and box or trailer;
  • Ensure the customer moves the product into storage as soon as possible; and
  • Contact dispatch with any overage, shortage, or damage concerns, as well as food safety or quality issues.

Step 4: Between loads — Clean the equipment

The trailer’s interior should be cleaned of dirt and debris after each delivery. Between loads, the following are common requirements:

  • Remove residues from previous cargo. For example, if you haul fresh chicken one day and produce the next, you don’t want any salmonella left in the trailer for the second shipment.
  • Pallets, load-securing devices, and loading equipment are made sanitary.
  • Trailers and equipment are cleaned with an approved sanitizer, and wash water should be at least 180°. The food transporter must ensure residue from the cleaning solution does not remain to create a contaminant.
  • Trailers must be cleaned according to the customer contract if different from above.

This article was written by Mark Schedler of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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