Twelve years ago, the federal government passed a law called the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 to help protect the safety of food that is being transported across the country.

Under the act, the Food and Drug Administration sets rules for sanitary transportation practices that will ensure that all food that is transported either by rail or by a motor vehicle is done so in conditions that won’t adulterate that food. Covered under the act is not only food for consumption by humans but food to be consumed by animals, too.

The FDA takes this law very seriously, as food that is either stored or transported in unsanitary conditions can cause significant illness and even death in some cases. That’s why they are constantly monitoring not only rail and trucking companies tasked with transporting food but also the manufacturing companies that produce it and store it until it can be transported.

While the law is simply in its aim, it can be complicated to fully understand. Luckily, the FDA has provided guidance to transportation companies on how they can remain in compliance with the law to ensure food is transported safely.

Here are ways in which transportation companies need to deal with the FDA’s food hauling rules.

Who the FDA’s Rule Covers

The FDA’s rule applies to all loaders, receivers, shippers and carriers that are involved in the transportation of food in America. This includes food that is shipped within one state without crossing state lines. 

In addition, the rule covers companies that will be transporting food to the United States for consumption from another country. So, trucking or rail companies that deliver food directly to the U.S. from either Mexico or Canada are covered. 

Finally, companies that intend to export food or food products overseas are covered under the FDA rule up until their shipment reaches either an American border or export port.

The FDA defines “food” as any final product or constituent of a food product that will be consumed by either animals or people. In other words, it includes not just meat and produce that will be directly consumed, but also flour, grain, pet food, ingredients used to feed animals as well as some additional agricultural products.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some companies and food products that are exempt from the FDA’s rule. They generally fit into six categories, which are listed below.

  1. Carriers, loaders, shippers and receivers who transport food that has an average annual revenue not in excess of $500,000.
  2. Any transportation activity that happens on farmland
  3. Food that is transported in a container that’s completely enclosed, such as grain shipments in containerized equipment. The only exception to this exemption is if the product in question would require a temperature-controlled environment.
  4. Food that is shipped through the U.S. on its way to another country
  5. Food that is being transported to eventually be exported to another country, and that isn’t intended to be distributed or consumed in the U.S.
  6. Human food co-products that are intended to be used as animal feed, as long as they aren’t going to be processed any further

The Specific Requirements of the FDA Rules

The FDA sets forth specific requirements for different aspects of the transportation of food throughout the United States. Parts of the rule apply differently to companies involved in each part of the process, while parts apply to what needs to be done. 

Here are the main categories to which the FDA rules apply.

Shippers

All shippers have to create written procedures that will ensure that all equipment and vehicles that are used as part of the transportation process are in an appropriate condition to ensure that all food being transported is sanitary. Because of the different requirements that different types of food have to maintain sanitary conditions, this process needs to vary for each specific type of food being transported.

Shippers are able to rid themselves of this requirement if they have a written agreement that the carrier will be the entity responsible for satisfying the FDA’s rules. This isn’t a very common occurrence, though. 

Loaders

Loaders must ensure that they follow any specifications or detailed set out by the shipper in a written agreement before they load any food that isn’t enclosed in a container completely. This applies whether the food is being loaded onto a truck or railcar.

The written agreement must also clearly state that the practices being undertaken are sanitary and appropriate for the product in question. Further, the conveyance must be in good condition, and free from any evidence that can be seen of previous cargo residue or pests that could potentially contaminate the next shipment of food.

Equipment

The equipment that is being used to transport the food must be properly designed and maintained to ensure that it doesn’t cause any of the food to at one point become unsafe during the transportation process. This means that the vehicle has to be maintained regularly and that any refrigeration required by the job is working properly and set at the right temperatures.

Training

All truck and rail carriers must train all of their employees about potential problems related to food safety, as well as basic practices in regard to sanitary transportation. The companies are also required to maintain proper documentation of all of this training.

Loaders, receivers and shippers are not required to undergo this training. Carriers are not required to do this training if the shipper is the one that will bear the burden of satisfying the FDA’s rules.

Records

Detailed records must be established and then maintained for all communication between shippers and carriers, as well as all training, agreements and written procedures.

The FDA sets different time periods for which this information must be retained, depending on the type of record in question. In most cases, though, the records do not have to be kept for more than 12 months.