Food Safety Modernization Act poised to hit smaller carriers in 2018

Smaller carriers will have to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act this fall.

Smaller carriers will have to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act this fall.

With the storm of the ELD mandate relatively abated, we now look into the next approaching regulation - food safety compliance that falls under the FDA domain. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011 in relation to an outbreak of salmonella and listeria due to unsanitized freight transportation processes, and authorizes the FDA to enforce regulations to improve the situation.

Though the mandate has already been partially implemented with regard to large carriers and fleet agencies, the hard deadline for smaller fleets is up this year. And it is these smaller fleets that are a game changer, being the majority in the trucking ecosystem and also the ones that are most adverse to change and regulations.

The regulations for the smaller fleets will be effective from Sept. 17, 2018, and their impact is expected to reverberate across the industry, like in the case of the ELD mandate.

FreightWaves spoke with Colin Warkentin, the CTO of Digi SafeTemps, trying to fully understand what the food safety compliance rule would have in store for the freight industry. Digi International is at the forefront of the FSMA regulations, helping companies with automated temperature monitoring for perishables in freight transit and serving as an independent audit of refrigeration system compliance.

“If you look at the Food Safety Modernization Act, it is really about the FDA trying to make the food chain safer. The government looks at the best practices out there to protect the transport of food, and they codify it with regulations to spread those practices throughout the industry,” says Warkentin.

Digi realizes that the impact of this regulation could draw parallels with the ELD mandate and thus approaches the ruling from what it learned from the ELD scenario. “Smaller companies will have challenges in complying with the rule because they don’t have the economies of scale of the larger companies,” notes Warkentin.

But this apparent increase in monitoring requirements would not necessarily mean that it would drive up food rates, he believes. “The competition in the food industry is very tight right now, and in our view, we don’t believe there is sufficient room in the market for increasing transport costs due to regulations. Rather, companies that implement cost-effective solutions could have an advantage.”

Warkentin also stresses the importance of technology in getting a competitive advantage and in reducing overhead costs. “The freight system does not work in a silo; it does not work independently. It is advantageous for transport companies to integrate technology with their current systems. It is important for customers to get value and by adding new technology, the companies are not adding new labor,” he adds. “I think it is really important to get the benefit out of FSMA and it is not just about being legally compliant.”

The industry is also split between opinions of people advocating the need for the government to take an active role in food safety regulation, against a few who vouch for self-regulation. “My perspective is that regardless of the law, a transport company and a food manufacturer is being paid to deliver a safe and quality product. And it is in the interest of all manufacturers and deliverers that the food they supply is of the best possible quality,” notes Warkentin.

“For instance, you may deliver lettuce from point A to B, and it may be safe when it arrives, but if you are not properly measuring the temperature, you might have a decrease in quality, which translates to lesser shelf life in the store.”

Bottomline, it is about companies being technologically aware and approaching the FSMA head-on, instead of playing the waiting game like with the ELD mandate. The requirements include maintaining detailed procedures of sanitation and temperature control processes, with clearly stated ceiling threshold limits for temperature monitoring which needs a strict adhering. Fleet companies have a compelling need to understand the rules to prevent losses regarding non-compliance and have to act fast, as the clock is already ticking.  

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