Trucking companies have until April 6 to comply with the training provision of the FDA’s Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule, but with less than two weeks before the compliance date, the federal agency has yet to post its digital training course.
As part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, carriers responsible for sanitary conditions during food transportation must train drivers to deal with potential food safety problems, as well as teach them basic sanitary practices and the responsibilities for motor carriers dictated by the rule.
“The objective is to prevent food from becoming unsafe by ensuring that it is properly refrigerated, that vehicles and trailers are properly cleaned and sanitized, pallets are sanitary and food is properly protected and stored at correct temperatures during transport,” said Jon Samson, executive director of the American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference.
Motor carriers also must maintain records documenting the name of the driver and the date of the training.
However, there is a hiccup in the FDA rule. The federal agency has yet to finalize or post its one-hour web-based course even as trucking companies with revenue of more than $500,000 face the April 6 deadline to have their drivers trained.
The FDA declined to answer Trucks.com questions about what has delayed the digital course.
The agency is continuing to work “to make this training module available to the industry,” said Jason Strachman Miller, an FDA spokesman.
There is a fallback.
The regulation allows motor carriers to develop their own training modules or wait until the FDA makes available its online training tool, he said.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness, or CAFSP, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, has developed its own training module to help motor carriers meet the sanitary transportation requirements under FSMA. The online course is available for $55 per driver, and there are bulk rates available for fleets. Participants receive a certificate upon completion.
The course material was reviewed by the FDA last fall after the agency tasked the university to develop a separate national training program for FSMA, said Sharon Thompson, director of the CAFSP. In the first two days after the university launched its online course last week, more than 400 truck drivers completed the training, Thompson said. Large fleets also have expressed interest in having their drivers use the course, she said.
Smaller trucking companies, those with less than $500,000 in revenue, have an additional year to comply.
Some say the staggered compliance timing between segments of the trucking industry may hurt the small carriers.
“Is a shipper going to be more apt to go with the medium to large carrier that already has this additional safety requirement or go with the guy who doesn’t have to follow the same requirement,” Samson told Trucks.com. “Since this rule puts everything in the shippers’ hands, they are going to force all motor carriers to follow their requirements anyway or the small carriers won’t get the jobs.”
The Western States Trucking Association believes the staggered compliance deadlines will create confusion.
“If you are exempted, how do you prove that you don’t fall under the purview of the rule,” said Joe Rajkovacz, the trade group’s director of governmental affairs. “Are drivers going to have to carry their IRS documents everywhere to prove they are exempt?”
Exempt drivers will be responsible for providing their financial documents to the FDA upon request, Samson said.
Waivers will be granted for Grade A milk facilities, which adhere to regulations far more stringent than the new regulation, as well as poultry, egg and meat facilities that fall under the inspection purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA.
Mega-carrier Walmart, which has a fleet of more than 6,000 trucks, said it would adhere to the new sanitary training requirements under FSMA.
However, the company has not decided whether it will develop its own training program for its drivers or wait until the FDA’s online course becomes available, said Scott Markley, a Walmart spokesman.
“We feel good about what we have implemented and our best practices are audited regularly by a third-party tester to make sure we comply with FDA rules,” Markley told Trucks.com. “We are at the forefront of state-of the-art food-safety best practices from farm to stores.”
How the rule will be enforced and who will enforce it hasn’t been ironed out yet, Samson said. He said the FDA simply doesn’t have the resources and personnel to play an active enforcement role.
“The FDA doesn’t know much about transportation, and the U.S. Department of Transportation doesn’t know much about food, so we will see,” he said.
Connecticut has introduced legislation that would allow its Department of Agriculture to serve as the lead agency “for purposes of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.”
Samson said he doesn’t foresee aggressive enforcement of the rule unless there is a food-safety problem.
“If an incident occurs, the FDA will start to go down the supply chain and investigate who is at fault,” he said.