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4 tips to safely transport perishables

Don’t let summer temperatures put your load and reputation at risk

Posted June 4, 2021

As summer temperatures begin to heat up, motor carriers may be required to safeguard food products based on contracts with shippers who are subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety rules.

Under the rule, the shipper has a responsibility to ensure equipment and vehicles are sanitary and the food being transported is not compromised (e.g., contamination, spoilage). Even though the motor carrier is not directed by

FDA to employ safety procedures, the shipper — the transporter’s customer — is mandated to do so. As a result, the mandate may play out as a written contract between the shipper and food transporter, specifying safety protocols that meet the requirements of the rule.

The following industry best practices may help your carrier protect perishables from the summer heat.

1.      Ready the load

Perishables must be kept at the desired temperature continuously throughout the trip. Communication between the driver and either the customer or your company at the beginning of the trip is the first step in maintaining the integrity of the load.

When the load is picked up, the driver needs to:

  • Know the correct shipping temperature.
  • Be told if the reefer unit should be run in stop-start or continuous mode.
  • Check the cooling unit to make sure it is working properly before loading.
  • Make sure the compartment door seals are intact.

Other suggested practices for your drivers at the point of origin include:

  • Precooling the trailer to the desired temperature before loading.
  • Minimizing the loading time, unless backed up to a cold storage dock.
  • Using spacers on the sidewalls and at the ends of the trailer — as well as the pallets on the floor — for proper air flow around the cargo.
  • Closing the doors immediately after the truck/trailer has pulled away from the dock.

2.      Keep it cool

A lot can happen in the points between the shipper and receiver. The shipper has placed an expectation on the carrier (and its driver) that the load will make it to the destination unscathed. Drivers must remain diligent to ensure against spoilage.

Suggested practices for your driver while on the road include:

  • Inspecting the outside of the trailer for damage or tampering;
  • Checking for leakage of fluids or other problems with the reefer unit;
  • Monitoring the temperature function of the refrigeration unit every time he or she stops — or at least every four hours; and
  • Minimizing in-transit time to reduce opportunity for spoilage. 

3.      Document cargo condition

When drivers reach the receiver, they should be trained to always:

  • Check and document the overall condition of the product (i.e., damage, quality, and temperature);
  • Note temperature readings on the paperwork, including both the cargo and box or trailer; and
  • Move the product from the loading docks into storage immediately. 

4.      Clean the equipment for the next shipment

Cleanliness is also a factor in food safety. In many instances, the carrier has no control over the sanitation of the trailer or equipment. The driver just picks up a sealed load from the customer.

If trailers are managed by the motor carrier, it may be called upon by customers to reserve food-use-only trailers to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

The trailer’s interior must be regularly cleaned, free of debris and dirt. The driver and carrier need to watch for nails sticking up from the floorboards that could puncture packaging.

Residues from previous cargo must be removed. For example, if you haul fresh chicken one day and fresh produce the next, you don’t want any salmonella left in the trailer for the second shipment. Pallets, load-securing devices, and loading equipment (e.g., hand trucks, forklifts) must be sanitary.

If the trailer or equipment needs to be cleaned, use hot water and an approved sanitizer. The food transporter must ensure residue from the cleaning solutions does not remain to create a contaminant.

This article was written by Kathy Close of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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