Food safety should be the top priority for everyone involved in bringing foods from farm to table. Starting from implementing safe agricultural practices to good manufacturing practices during the processing of food, and finally ending with food safety transportation standards that must be met. These regulations and guidelines serve to improve food safety, prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, and lower health risks.
The primary regulation that protects food from contamination during transport is established by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food. This rule aims to prevent:
- Failure to properly refrigerate food
- Inadequate cleaning of transport vehicles between loads
- Failure to properly protect food from outside influences and contamination
- Other practices that create food safety risks during transportation
The FSMA rule describes requirements for transportation equipment, operations, training, records, and waivers.
Who Is Covered?
The FDA regulation applies to all loaders, carriers, shippers, and receivers of food in the United States by rail or motor vehicle. It doesn’t matter whether or not the food is meant for interstate commerce – the regulation still applies. It also applies to shippers from other countries that transport food to the United States by motor or rail vehicle or by ship or air, after which the food is transported by a motor or rail vehicle if the food is intended to be distributed or consumed in the US.
Organizations that export food from the US to other countries or transport food through the US without distributing it in the States are covered by this rule until their shipments reach a US border or a port.
Each area of transportation of food – shipping, loading, carrying, and receiving – comes with its own set of rules and responsibilities. The responsibilities are determined by agreements between various parties that occupy these positions. A single company can take on more than one role – for example, a food service distributor will typically handle all four areas of responsibility.
When considering the circumstances in which transport of foods might lead to contamination, there are several problem areas:
- Temperature abuse – improper temperature control or refrigeration
- Improper transportation or storage unit management – improper sanitation, cleaning of vehicles, disposal of wastewater, aluminum phosphide fumigation methods in railcar units, backhauling hazardous materials, not maintaining proper wash records, etc.
- Incorrect use of packing materials and poor pallet quality
- Poor practices, conditions, or loading equipment – improper sanitation, transporting mixed loads, inadequate loading practice, not using dedicated units, etc.
- Poor practices, conditions, or equipment for unloading – improper sanitation, letting raw materials sit on loading docks after work hours
- Poor pest control in transportation or storage units
- Drivers or employees with insufficient training and managers, supervisors, or owners with inadequate knowledge of food safety
- Poor construction and design of transportation units
- Poor employee hygiene
- Improper transportation or storage unit maintenance – causing gaps in doors, roof leaks, ice accumulation, condensation, etc.
- Inadequate policies regarding safe or secure food transport or storage
- Improper handling of products that have been returned, salvaged, destined for disposal, or reworked; improper handling of rejected loads
- Improper holding practices – leaving the product unattended, delayed holding of the product, poor throughput, and rotation, etc.
Proposed General Solutions
To improve their compliance, motor carriers and rail carriers involved in food safety should implement broad preventive controls. They include:
- Sanitation (pest control, monitoring and ensuring the proper sanitation and condition of transportation units, and sanitation of loading and unloading procedures)
- Adequate temperature control
- Correct use of packing materials, good quality pallets – proper packaging of food products and transportation units
- Employee training and awareness
- Excellent communication between transporters, shippers, and receivers
Main Transportation Requirements
The FDA classifies the key requirements for food safety transportation into four major categories:
- Vehicles and transportation equipment – The vehicles and transportation equipment used must be adequately cleanable and suitable. Each food product has a specific temperature at which it has to be stored. Each piece of equipment or vehicle must be able to maintain the required temperature at all times. The design of these transportation elements must not cause the transported food to become unsafe in any way.
- Transportation operations – These operations represent a set of measures that need to be taken to ensure food safety until the food product reaches its destination. They include preventing raw food from touching ready-to-eat food, separating non-food items from food products to avoid cross-contamination, preventing accidental incorporation of food allergens, adequate temperature controls, and more.
- Training – The carrier and shipper can agree that the carrier is responsible for the sanitary conditions during transport. In that case, the carrier is obligated to provide necessary food safety training to its personnel in hygienic transportation practices.
- Records – Carriers are required to keep records of written agreements, procedures, and training. The documents must be kept for no longer than 12 months from the date the covered activity occurred, though the exact retention period depends on the type of record.
Food Transportation Flexibility
The FDA took an unusual approach to enforce the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule. Instead of designing a restrictive regulation system, the FDA created a set of food safety regulations that must be followed but decided to leave it up to the supply chain participants to implement their methods of complying with them.
For example, food products that require strict temperature control must be transported in appropriate vehicles or equipment. However, the FDA does not insist on any specific solution to this problem. Supply chain companies can opt for using refrigerated trailers or ice and insulated coolers or another method altogether – it doesn’t matter as long as the product temperature is within the FDA regulations.
The same can be applied to the sanitary conditions of the transportation vehicle. Tanker trucks that carry ice cream mixes won’t have the same needs as trailers that carry food on pallets. This is why the FDA doesn’t mandate the use of any specific technology. Each party is allowed to choose from a variety of ways the manner of transportation that best suits their needs.
Keeping food products free from contamination during transportation within the same facility is just as important as keeping them safe during transport from one location to another. Before the finished food product reaches the loading stage, it must be safely moved from the production to the packaging area and then to the loading docks.
The best solution for protecting food before packaging is to transport it via an enclosed conveyor belt. Cablevey conveyor systems offer various flexible solutions for your food manufacturing business that guarantee low material breakage and extremely low risk of contamination. The food ingredients are moved through an enclosed tube from one machine to another, completely cut off from its surroundings. There are no loose elements that could break away or any hidden nooks and crannies where material could accumulate and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Having a sanitary, contamination-free transportation system across the country won’t mean much if your food gets contaminated during the production process. Investing in high-quality conveyor equipment that meets all the food safety standards is imperative for any food industry.
The FDA food transportation safety standards are relatively unique in that they do not describe a specific methodology or technology that everyone involved in the supply chain should be using. Instead, companies are faced with a number of strict guidelines they can meet in any way that suits their business. For maintaining the correct temperature of transportation vehicles, they are free to use coolers with ice or refrigerated trailers or something else entirely.
The food safety standards apply to all supply chain participants (loaders, shippers, carriers, and receivers) who transport food products by motor or rail vehicles. This is related strictly to food that is meant for consumption or distribution in the United States. Companies that export food products to other countries are bound to adhere to these standards until their products reach a border or port.
To avoid the most common issues related to safe food transport, organizations involved in it should focus on sanitation and maintenance of vehicles, temperature control, employee and driver training, and improving communication between managers, supervisors, owners, and employees.
Finally, in-house product transportation should not be overlooked. Your conveyor systems should meet all the required safety standards so that your product doesn’t get contaminated before it reaches the transportation vehicle. If you’d like to learn more about safe and sanitary food transportation within our conveyors, please contact us at Cablevey. We’d love to answer any questions you may have on this topic.