Shippers Bear Primary Responsibility for Safe Transportation of Food

Sometimes referred to as the “weakest link” in the food safety system, many responsible for the transportation of food feared that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) would be particularly harsh on the transportation industry. For all of the trepidation and foreboding, the initial 2014 proposed regulation was surprisingly benign, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually praising the transportation industry’s current best practices. If the draft regulation was a surprise, the final regulation for the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, published April 6, 2016, is worthy of cartwheels as it further dials back even the provisions in the draft regulation.

What may not automatically occur to those in the food industry is that the rules applying to the safe transportation of food apply not only to transportation carriers, but also to shippers, receivers and loaders. In fact, under the final regulation primary responsibility for nearly all safety risks during transportation falls to the shipper. It is the shipper who must determine appropriate transportation operations. The shipper must develop and implement written procedures to ensure that equipment and vehicles are in appropriate sanitary condition. Shippers of bulk food must develop and implement written procedures to ensure that a previous cargo does not cross-contaminate. Shippers of food which require temperature control for safety must also develop and implement written procedures to ensure adequate temperature control during transport. These responsibilities may be contractually assigned to other entities, such as the carrier or loader, if they agree to accept the responsibility. FDA’s logic is that it is the shipper who is in the best position to know the appropriate specifications for the transportation of its food product.