Can truckers be trusted to transport food safely? A leading trucking association says the industry has a good track record and asks regulators to keep that in mind.

American Trucking Associations - Comment
Document ID:

This is comment on PROPOSED RULE: Implementation of Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005
Docket ID:


Division of Dockets Management (HFA–305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061 Via Electronic Filing:
Rockville, MD 20852
Re: Docket No. FDA-2010-N-0013 -- Implementation of the Sanitary
Food Transportation Act of 2005

To Whom It May Concern:
The American Trucking Associations, Inc.1 (“ATA”) is writing to comment on the Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) entitled Request for Data and Information in regard to Implementation of Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005.2 As the national representative of the trucking industry, ATA is interested in matters affecting the nation’s motor carriers, including modifications to the regulations governing the transportation of food products.

For this reason, ATA and its affiliated conference, the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference appreciate this opportunity to comment on the ANPRM. The existing regulatory structure governing the transport of food in the United States has a proven track record in preventing the outbreak of foodborne illness. Prohibitions on the transportation of food in a manner that causes adulteration combined with food industry standards specifically tailored to the types of food, transportation methods, and subsequent food use have produced a food transportation system that is the envy of the world.

For these reasons, we are concerned with the direction espoused in the ANPRM, as a one-size-fits-all set of regulatory requirements governing food transportation is impracticable and will not improve the safe transportation of food in the United States. A. The Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 The Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 (“SFTA” or the “Act”) directs the  Secretary to promulgate regulations that “ensure that food is not transported under conditions that may render the food adulterated.”4 Congress has given the Secretary discretion to promulgate regulations that “the Secretary determines to be appropriate relating to” “sanitation,” “packaging, isolation and other protective measures,” “limitations on the use of vehicles,” and “recordkeeping.”5

 The Secretary also has discretion to establish segregation requirements and regulate the information exchanged between food shippers and carriers.6 As such, the Act requires the Secretary to make a scientific, reasoned decision that such regulatory requirements are necessary to ensure the safe transportation of food. In light of the diverse nature of the trucking industry and the wide variety of food products, packaging, transportation and processing methods that occur at each point in the food supply chain, such regulatory requirements must focus on performance standards rather than specific food handling and transportation methods. Moreover, the food shippers themselves are in the best position to determine the appropriate transportation methods and require, through contractual obligations, that their transportation service providers perform in a manner that continues to ensure safe food transportation.

For these reasons, we believe that any regulations promulgated pursuant to SFTA should center upon a requirement that the shipper of food products develop and implement a transportation plan appropriate to the products they ship and the types of transportation services they utilize and communicate these requirements to their carriers. These transportation plans should consider food packaging, vehicle use limitations, recordkeeping, and product segregation.

We also note that Congress is poised to enact additional legislation that will affect food safety, including transportation.7 This legislation would inter alia require a food transportation study, which would help inform this rulemaking. For this reason, FDA should continue to gather information on food transportation with a view towards analyzing whether additional regulatory requirements are necessary to ensure the continued safe transportation of food in the United States.

B. Existing Regulations Have Proven to be Effective
The ANPRM sets forth a limited number of incidents of food contamination that have been attributable to transportation practices.8 In fact, the ANPRM describes 6 instances of improper transportation of food products over the last 36 years, and only four of these incidents resulted in transportation-caused foodborne illness.9 ATA is not aware of any additional transportation-caused food borne illness incidents that have been omitted from the ANPRM preamble.

ATA estimates that there are more than 85 million shipments of food in the  United States each year.10 The fact that over the past 36 years there have been only four reported instances of transportation-related foodborne illness is a testament to the fact that our existing regulatory structure and food industry practices governing the transportation of food have proven to be extremely effective.

Against this incredible safety record, FDA must approach the issuance of new regulations with significant caution, as additional regulation could add substantial cost to the transportation of food, while yielding little if any improvement in food safety. As a data-driven, risk-based organization, FDA should subject each contemplated regulatory requirement to a stringent cost benefit analysis.

In light of the infrequency of transportation-related foodborne illness, the benefit side of that analysis likely will be very small. FDA also should be aware that the U.S. Department of Transportation has existing regulatory requirements that prohibit the transportation of food products with certain hazardous materials.11 DOT also has regulations requiring decontamination of certain motor vehicles12 and has extensive recordkeeping requirements applicable to motor carriers.13 FDA should not duplicate these existing regulatory requirements, which could confound motor carriers’ ability to operate in full compliance with applicable regulations.

C. The Trucking and Food Production Industries are Very Diverse

We transport and consume a wide variety of food in the United States. A list of broad categories, such as fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, eggs, and milk does not  even begin to scratch the surface of the types of food that are transported every day in the United States. Moreover, each type of food has different types of packaging, different methods of transportation, different processing steps upon receipt and therefore different requirements that will be necessary to ensure food safety depending upon the food’s intended use.14

For example, some of the ways that tomatoes are transported include in bulk hoppers from the farm, in crates to distribution centers, and in cans in the form of tomato sauce destined for retail sale. Each one of these movements necessitates different procedures to ensure the safety of the product being moved. These procedures will vary based on the type of products and the packaging utilized.

For example, procedures to guard against contamination are most important when the tomatoes are transported as a sliced commodity destined for consumption in their raw form compared to tomatoes that are destined for a manufacturing plant where they may be subjected to a kill step and other procedures that remove contaminants as they are converted to tomato sauce.

The shipper must conduct a hazard analysis that considers the ultimate use of the product and then establish appropriate transportation procedures. A case-by-case assessment may be necessary, since even identical food products may require different procedures (e.g., not all tomato sauces have preventative controls such as heat treatment or chemical preservatives that will prevent the growth of bacteria).

Similarly, segregation requirements may be important when tomatoes are shipped without packaging to asupermarket, but are not necessary when canned tomatoes are shipped to the same location. In fact, the need for segregation will vary based on the type of products and the packaging utilized. Packaged goods should not be subjected to segregation requirements – consumers regularly go to the grocery store and transport pesticides and household  cleaning supplies in the same shopping cart as food products. 

Products packaged for consumer use often obviate the need for segregation. Milk is transported in bulk tank trucks from the farm to a distributor and also is transported in various size packages from the distributor to retail. Temperature control is important for liquid milk, but not necessary for powdered milk. Temperature control requirements will vary based on geography, distance traveled, packaging and even seasonal ambient temperatures.

Perhaps the most high profile example of food borne illness that resulted from transportation stems from the 1994 incident involving an outbreak of salmonellosis from contaminated ice cream mix. In this case, liquid raw eggs were transported in a bulk cargo tank. Although the cargo tank was washed, trace amounts of liquid egg remained undetected in the tank. When the tank was then put into bulk milk product service, the ice cream mix became contaminated. The dairy industry responded to this incident by implementing new procedures to account for the fact that even after a tank washing, some contamination could remain.

The dairy industry now re-pasteurizes milk at the processing plant. This additional kill step - which now is a standard protocol - was put in place to correct a deficiency in food transportation safety. As a result of these industry practices, this food safety incident is not likely to be repeated. It is not possible for FDA to draft regulations that can apply to each type of food transported, different food processing procedures, each type of truck that is used, the  various types of packaging in use, the ambient conditions, length of trip, transfers between trucks and warehouses, and a host of other non-uniform conditions that characterize the movement of food through the supply chain.

For this reason, the most appropriate way to ensure food safety through the regulatory process is to require each food shipper to develop a food safety plan that identifies the risks in the transportation of their products and implements appropriate risk mitigation measures. It is impossible for FDA to write regulations that appropriately address the thousands of variables that are implicated by the movement of food from the farm to the table.

D.  The Importance of Uniformity to Trucking One of the most important aspects of FDA’s role in implementing SFTA is to  ensure a consistent regulatory framework promoting the safe and efficient transportation of food. In the ANPRM, FDA asked several questions concerning state regulations governing food safety. We offer no opinion on regulations applicable to fixed facilities, however, to ensure the safe and efficient interstate movement of food (and other products), uniform regulations are required. Individual state regulations governing the transportation of food could frustrate its safe and efficient movement and confound motor carriers’ efforts to ensure compliance.

While we have recommended that individual shippers with knowledge of their food products and their intended uses are best positioned to dictate requirements necessary to ensure the safe transportation of food and acknowledge that these requirements would vary depending upon the shipper’s assessment of risk, the requirements each shipper establishes for each load would not vary as the food moves across state lines. Trucking companies operating interstate cannot change equipment or alter food protection procedures as they move from one jurisdiction to another. For this reason, Congress provided FDA with broad preemption authority under SFTA. In that regard, FDA should issue a strong statement preempting state and local regulations that impact the interstate transportation of food.

An objective assessment of food transportation safety in the trucking industry and the lack of foodborne health incidents that have occurred over the past three decades lead to the conclusion that additional regulatory requirements in this area are not necessary. Clearly, the existing regulatory prohibitions combined with food industry standards have produced an impressive food transportation safety track record. Moreover, the diverse nature of the trucking industry, the wide variety of food that is transported, packaging distinctions, and differences in how the food will be processed or consumed, make it impractical to promulgate specific regulatory requirements that can effectively accommodate these and other variables incidental to food transportation.

The most appropriate way to ensure food safety through the regulatory process is to require each food shipper to develop a food safety plan that identifies the risks in the transportation of their products and implement appropriate risk mitigation measures. ATA and AFTC appreciate the opportunity to comment on the ANPRM and we look forward to working with FDA and the other industries impacted by potential regulatory requirements governing the transportation of food. If you have any questions related to these comments, please contact the undersigned at (703) 838-1700.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard Moskowitz
V.P. and Regulatory Affairs Counse

Executive Director