The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, which applies to shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers who transport food in the United States, became final on June 6. The rule addresses foods that require time/temperature control for safety and to prevent spoilage, such as fresh-cut produce, meat and frozen foods.
While shippers and carriers have up to two years to comply based on their size, there are several steps they can take now to establish best practices and ensure they’re ready to comply with regulations once they take effect.
As part of FSMA, before loading food that requires temperature control, the loader must verify, based on the shipper’s specifications, that mechanically refrigerated cold storage compartments or containers as well as thermally insulated tanks have been properly precooled, if necessary. The FDA has said pre-cooling may not be required during winter months. Many carriers already pre-cool equipment as a best practice, but those that don’t should consider how they will educate and prepare drivers for the new requirement.
Portions of the rule apply to vehicles and transportation equipment and state that the design, maintenance and storage must be appropriate to prevent the food from becoming unsafe during transportation operations. For food requiring temperature control, vehicles and transportation equipment must be equipped, as necessary, to provide adequate temperature control.
Carriers must develop written standard operating procedures for cleaning and inspection of vehicles that describe how carriers will meet requirements to provide information to shippers about temperature conditions and bulk cargo protection, as appropriate. Carriers will also be required to maintain training records. The required retention time for these records depends upon the type of record and when the covered activity occurred, but does not exceed 12 months.
As part of the rule, shippers, receivers and carriers need to take effective and protective measures, such as hand washing, to protect food transported in bulk vehicles or food not completely enclosed by a container from contamination and cross-contact during transportation. Providing drivers access to hand washing facilities is one method for preventing the contamination of food, but FDA agreed that it may not always be necessary. The agency decided to provide flexibility for the transportation industry to determine what control measures, such as cleansing wipes or gloves if hand washing is not available, would be necessary in any given set of circumstances.
First, shippers and carriers need to decide who is responsible for the sanitary conditions during transportation operations. According to the FDA, when the carrier and shipper have agreed in a written contract that the carrier is responsible for the sanitary conditions during transportation operations, carrier personnel must receive adequate and documented training on sanitary transportation practices and awareness of potential food safety problems that may occur during food transportation.