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On April 6, the new rules for the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Foods will come into effect for small businesses. As the date approaches, it can be useful to review what shippers, carriers and brokers will need to comply with when handling food.

Read on for an overview of the main requirements!

The Sanitary Transportation Rule

The Sanitary Transportation Rule which is part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was finalized in April 2016. For larger businesses the rule came into effect on April 6, 2017, whereas small businesses were given a longer time to prepare and will have to begin complying with its provisions on April 6, 2018.

Within the rule, small businesses are defined as those businesses other than motor carriers who are also not shippers or receivers employing less than 500 employees. Carriers with less than $27.5 million in annual receipts are also considered small businesses.

The purpose of the rule is to provide new guidelines and rules which are meant to prevent food safety risks that arise during transportation. Such risks arise when food is not refrigerated well, vehicles used for food transport are not cleaned properly or, for example, when food in open containers is not protected adequately.

Who Must Comply?

Though there are some exemptions, the rule applies to all “shippers, receivers, loaders, and carriers who transport food in the United States”, regardless if the food enters interstate commerce or not. It also applies to everyone who ships food into the U.S. if that food is to be sold or consumed in the U.S.

It is important to note that the rule specifically states that freight brokers are also among those who need to comply with the rule, and that within the rule they are considered the same as shippers. This is important because it places responsibilities on brokers which they have typically not had to assume.

Now, like shippers, brokers may need to consider carefully defining the responsibilities they have towards their partners in the form of written agreements. In fact, given the strict compliance rules for freight brokers, due to the surety bonding agreements they must enter into when getting licensed, the requirements of Sanitary Transportation Rule should not be ignored.

So what must the different parties comply with?

Compliance Requirements

The compliance requirements under the rule vary depending on the party involved in the transportation process. There are four general categories of provisions that must be covered by the different parties. These are:

  • Vehicles and transportation equipment – Designing and maintaining vehicles and equipment in ways that guarantee that transported food does not become unsafe
  • Transportation operations – The measures taken to ensure that food is kept safe during transportation; such measures include temperature controls and preventing different forms of food contamination by other food items or non-food items, and cross-contact
  • Training – Training carrier personnel in understanding food safety risks and in sanitary practices to prevent such risks, as well as documenting training procedures
  • Records – Maintaining of records of communications between shippers and carriers, processes, procedures, agreements, and training

Within these categories, shippers, loaders, receivers, brokers and carriers must comply with a host of different obligations. So, for example, carriers need to ensure that the vehicles and equipment they use are up to the standards of the rule. At the same time, shippers (and freight brokers) must establish and implement procedures to check that this is the case. In cases in which a shipper is also a carrier, both responsibilities lie with that company.

In November 2017, the FDA issued a helpful and detailed Small Entity Compliance Guide which specifies all obligations within the above four categories clearly. If you are still working on implementing the requirement under the rule, this guide will help you in doing so. For carriers in particular, the FDA has also offered a training module which will help them understand and introduce all of the necessary changes.

Are you prepared?

While not much time is left before the implementation, small businesses transporting food still have time to finalize their compliance procedures. Are you prepared for the rule? What were the biggest hurdles you faced in preparing for the new requirements? Let us know in the comments!