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By Juliet Johansson, vice president, national sales
Ryder System, Inc., Miami, Fla.
The food industry is no stranger to regulation, but efforts to improve food safety got a boost recently when the Obama administration announced new, more stringent rules for eggs, poultry, beef and some fruits and vegetables. As part of the rules, producers will have to adopt tougher food safety measures during production, storage and transportation – meaning food will need to remain at the right temperature, as well as closely monitored and documented, during every step of the supply chain. For food manufacturers, shippers and distributors, this means among other things, having a well-maintained fleet, the right equipment and the latest tracking technology to ensure compliance.
Heightened awareness around food safety, bolstered by the new rules, has increased the importance of specifying the proper refrigeration equipment to maintain optimal product temperature. Considerations include product mix to be transported, temperature requirements, insulation thickness, hours of usage, number and duration of stops in any given route and any pre-loading requirements. When specifying an insulated body, items such as weight, cube and how the unit is going to be loaded and unloaded will dictate the correct vehicle specs. Many companies are already moving toward tractor/trailer combinations instead of straight trucks because they can go longer distances, and in the instance of a breakdown, the trailer can still be utilized. In addition, if the trailer unit is down for maintenance, it is much easier to replace it with another refrigerated trailer instead of replacing the entire truck.
If a temperature-controlled vehicle is specified correctly, the next step is to ensure the fleet is on a comprehensive preventive maintenance program. This includes making sure that technicians working on vehicles are certified to work on refrigerated units. A preventive maintenance program ensures that a vehicle is running at optimal efficiency. Components and equipment are replaced before failure, which would otherwise put product at risk in transit and disrupt deliveries. A reefer unit also requires regular inspections to ensure that the truck body is not compromised by dents, cuts or breaks in the insulation. Door seals should also be inspected for leaks. In multi-temperature units, it’s important to check the thermostat and thermometer calibrations and monitor the condition and operation of all fans and electrical connections. Cleanliness of the vehicle also is extremely important in food transport applications.
New tracking technology will continue to play a greater role in helping food producers comply with new regulations. GPS solutions are available not only to track trailers, but also to monitor the temperature inside the trailer. If a temperature is registered outside of established parameters, an alert is sent to the driver, providing an opportunity to fix a problem before the shipment goes bad.
As the U.S. government continues to look at ways to address safety concerns and keep tabs on the nation’s food supply, managing transportation will grow increasingly more complex and expensive. In fact, “playing it safe” when making transportation decisions have taken on a whole new meaning for the food industry. Now may be a good time for companies to take a fresh look at their fleet strategy and consider whether outsourcing to a third-party fleet management provider may be a more cost efficient and effective solution to comply with tougher rules and meet demanding customer service requirements.