Transporting Food Safely and Efficiently

The key to keeping food safe during transport? Detailed preparation and a little common sense.

By Troy Tepp of Sentry Insurance

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 fundamentally changed the landscape for businesses and drivers that transport food products. The FSMA did more than encourage a new approach to food integrity—it required it. From vehicle inspections to driver habits, from temperature readings to sanitation, the industry has invested heavily to refine its best practices.

While some of the tips I’ll outline below may seem obvious, I’ve included them because an error or omission can be devastating to your image and reputation. Complacency is a slippery slope, and it’s one I want to help you avoid—especially when it comes to food quality.

Food safety: Equipment and temperature

Ultimately, the goal—the reason for these regulations—is ensuring consumers have access to safe food. Because food products often travel thousands of miles, the responsibility for keeping food safe falls largely on those who transport it. To manage your responsibilities during transport, understand the requirements and commit to the following strategies:

  • Make sure your vehicles are in good mechanical condition and can keep food from becoming unsafe. This means having your drivers perform pre-trip inspections, adhere to each vehicle’s maintenance schedule and ensure the vehicle’s capacity is appropriate for the load it’s about to transport.
  • Familiarize your drivers with applicable sanitary transportation practices for the cargo space and require on-the-road documentation.
  • Maintain records of your business’ written procedures, agreements and training programs. Be sure to communicate these guidelines to your drivers at least annually and require their written acknowledgement and commitment to fulfilling them.
  • Encourage your drivers to make sure they have enough fuel to run cooling units during loading and unloading as well as during transit. The safest option? Always fill up before hauling.
  • Have your drivers use the same temperature-monitoring systems when transporting foods to ensure a consistent environment throughout the drive, and have them perform periodic temperature checks en route.
  • Make sure your drivers are familiar with the equipment and understand its limitations. For example, they should know how long it takes to pre-cool their trailer at specific outdoor temperatures. 45 minutes? Two hours? In extreme temperatures and when turnarounds are quick, this knowledge is key.

Working with shippers

You play an essential role in keeping food products safe—and complying with FDA regulations throughout the process. This likely involves working directly with shippers and understanding their responsibilities, which include ensuring:

  • Their vehicles and equipment are clean and sanitary before each trip.
  • Their previous cargo won’t cross-contaminate the food products you provide them.
  • They meet FSMA regulations regarding adequate temperature control.

Your food safety transportation plan

Finally, get your plan in writing. Obviously, the details of your company’s plan are largely dependent on your particular corner of the industry. But that shouldn’t stop you from starting with the basics:

  • Create a company policy: Confirm your intent to comply with all applicable regulations and reduce the potential for harmful foods in the distribution chain.
  • Develop a training plan: Be sure every employee involved in food transport—not just your drivers—participates in routine training that covers food product transport regulations.
  • Require pre-load inspections: Train and instruct your drivers to complete pre-load inspection sheets as part of the record-keeping process. Focus on trailer sanitization, load integrity, keeping load instructions up to date and visual load inspections.

While you may be several steps removed from the family sitting down to their Sunday evening dinner, your role in safely getting their food to them is essential. Control what you can, and err on the side of being proactive. Because no matter the cargo, the industry regulations, or any number of external circumstances, that’s the kind of approach that pays off.

Property and casualty coverages are underwritten, and safety services are provided, by a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, Stevens Point, WI. For a complete listing of companies, visit sentry.com. Policies, coverages, benefits, and discounts are not available in all states. See policy for complete coverage details.