FDA affirms responsibilities of shippers, carriers after trade groups seek guidance.

WASHINGTON — Carriers transporting agricultural and food products must provide suitable, clean transportation, whether or not a written agreement with a shipping partner to that effect has been signed, the government said last week.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s confirmation of the responsibilities of both shippers and carriers in ensuring the safe transport of food products came four months after food industry groups sought clarification on the Sanitary Transportation of Human & Animal Food rule, which was finalized in April.

Prior to the rule, shippers and carriers typically shared information on a voluntary basis regarding refrigeration capabilities, cleanout of vehicles between loads and other steps for proper protection of foods. The new rule, one of the key implementing rules of the FDA Food Modernization and Safety Act of 2010, recommended written agreements between shippers and carriers defining responsibilities in ensuring the safe transport of food.

David Fairfield, senior vice president of feed services at the National Grain and Feed Association.

“In effect, it was a disincentive to carriers to share the information because of the additional regulations,” said David Fairfield, senior vice president of feed services at the National Grain and Feed Association, one of the groups that collaborated on the letter.

“Looking back, it may have been an oversight in terms of writing the rule and its intent,” Fairfield said.

The 80-page sanitary transportation rule includes requirements for equipment (adequate cleanability and temperature capability), operations (separation of ready-to-eat foods, raw foods and non-food items), training and documentation of personnel, and the keeping of records regarding procedures, agreements and training.

“Unfortunately, the rule didn’t provide adequate guidance for the carriers, who are our partners, to ensure they shared in the responsibility for safe transportation,” said Christopher Clark, vice president of communications and administration at the North American Millers’ Association.

The FDA’s response was “a good outcome,” Clark said.

“We were generally pleased the FDA seemed to have realized our partners in the rail and trucking industries have some responsibility to ensure we all can comply with the rule,” he said. “It’s good news for agricultural shipping generally.”

The NGFA and NAMA were joined by the National Oilseed Processors Association in drafting the letter to the FDA Those groups and others plan to form an industry working group to develop a comprehensive list of best practices for sanitary rail and truck clean-out and the other requirements of the FDA rule. The group hopes to build that list in concert with their shipping partners, the Association of American Railroads and the American Trucking Association.

“All parties have a responsibility to ensure food safety,” Fairfield said. “Our main concern is that we felt the rule in some respects inhibited the exchange of information. We’re hopeful we can work with the carrier groups on best practices for efficient, safe transports that will be satisfactory to everyone.”