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Keep cool: How fleets carrying refrigerated goods can comply with new temperature laws

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) looms large for fleets that carry refrigerated foods. The new standards were drawn up and passed by the Obama administration in order to proactively reduce the number of foodborne illness incidents in the U.S. FSMA went into effect this past April for larger carriers (more than 500 employees), while the compliance date for smaller fleets (fewer than 500 employees) is April 2018. The laws will require new levels of compliance for carriers of refrigerated food, with new, more stringent standards on cleanliness and temperature needing to be met.

“Under the FSMA law, there are four parties that are involved and responsible for maintaining what is referred to as the cold chain: shippers, carriers (fleets), receivers and loaders,” explains Christian Lee, vice president of engineering for Great Dane.

“Each party has its own responsibilities according to the FSMA law,” he continues. “The shipper is responsible for developing minimum conditions under which the particular product they are shipping must be handled. The carrier is responsible for executing the shipper’s requirements, ensuring all personnel receive proper training, reporting any instance that might have caused food to be adulterated and keeping written compliance records. The receiver must ensure temperature control was maintained, either by measurement or sensor records, and report it in writing. Finally, equipment OEMs or providers must ensure that the equipment functions properly per the carrier’s requirements and equipment specifications.”

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Clearly, this has far-reaching effects for those fleets affected, including a probable need to spec new equipment in order to ensure compliance.

According to Gayatri Abbott, connected solutions product manager for Thermo King North America, it’s important for fleets to have conversations with their shipping partners to understand the shippers’ written procedures that outline:

  • Pre-cooling requirements;
  • Proof of temperature maintenance for the duration of the journey;
  • Temperature record retention requirements;
  • Sanitary condition requirements; and
  • Equipment specifications for cleanliness and temperature control.

“When fleets have this information, they can make informed decisions about the solutions they need to satisfy their customers’ requirements as well as federal regulations,” Abbott says. “These conversations are critical for ensuring that the carrier fully understands what risks they are assuming when they sign a written agreement with their shipper.”

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Both carriers and shippers are required to self-report situations in which food was potentially contaminated or spoiled.

“Examples of accountability methods that shippers and carriers could agree to include manually recording temperatures periodically, temperature record printouts and data downloads from the refrigeration system, the use of product temperature data loggers or the use of refrigeration unit telematics for data transmission, which may help automate and simplify any record-keeping processes,” suggests David Brondum, director of product management and sustainability for Carrier Transicold’s Truck, Trailer, Rail Division. “However, the law does not specify techniques—just that accountability practices are agreed to and deployed.”

Brondum notes that FSMA addresses temperature control for safety and not quality, noting that the conditions that maximize food quality and shelf life are more rigorous than food safety conditions.

“Fleets can take a proactive role by watching how they maintain their temperature loads at the warehouse, load their trailers and employ pre-cooling processes,” Thermo King’s Abbott says. “Proper loading and unloading procedures and delivery practices can not only ensure food safety but also can have a tremendous impact on fuel and operational costs.”

Abbott also recommends that fleets pre-cool the trailer prior to loading, as pre-cooling removes residual heat and prepares the trailer for loading.

Equipment that can help you comply

Great Dane offers several options to help its fleet customers protect against food cargo contamination,” Lee begins. “For example, our ThermoGuard lining reduces cooling run time, helps maintain excess cooling capacity and reduces fuel consumption so fleets can be assured that their cargo will stay at the right temperature.”

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ThermoGuard also comes standard with Microban antimicrobial protection in the lining, which actively fights the growth of bacteria that can cause odors and stains in the liner and helps support requirements under the FSMA.

For another example, Lee noted that composite sills and furring have replaced the use of wood as support in Everest reefers to help eliminate rot and moisture absorption. Additionally, all of the floors, gutters and sidewall flashings on the Everest are fully welded, which provides a ‘bathtub’ style floor assembly that facilitates frequent washing of floor surfaces, Lee explained.

Progress is also being made in the trailer telematics segment, and much of it is geared specifically toward fleets’ need to comply with FSMA. The new standards hold carriers accountable for storing information to ensure that products were delivered to the FDA’s quality standards, making temperature tracking software crucial.

“When the FSMA law goes into effect, fleets must have a refrigeration temperature monitoring system in place that collects temperature data on every shipment,” advises Jenny Shiner, marketing communications manager for GPS Insight. “Trailer tracking software helps fleets comply by using temperature sensors, which are installed into the trailer to provide real-time temperature data throughout the full duration of transport. Advanced systems even provide temperature alerts that notify management and/or drivers if a trailer’s temperature falls below or rises above specified thresholds.”

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Shiner goes on to mention several benefits that trailer tracking software provides for fleets beyond compliance such as improved visibility of the fleets’ trailers and how they are being utilized, as well as the ability to verify deliveries and offer proof of job completion.

 

FourKites is another company that offers trailer telematics solutions with its cloud-based real-time temperature tracking solution that integrates with a fleet’s existing telematics devices.

“We bring a similar approach to temperature tracking as we do to location tracking, in that we are provider-neutral,” says Priya Rajagopalan, FourKites’ chief product officer. “As long as a carrier has a smart device—any device capable of two-way communication—we can tap into it and provide the real-time temperature readings. This allows fleets to have a single source to both monitor location and temperature.”

According to Rajagopalan, the company is able to gather the information through its partnerships with of all the major transportation management systems and with more than 25 dispatch systems.

“With every load, we keep a complete record of temperature readings every 15 minutes,” she explains. “At any point, the shipper or carrier can log in, input the load number and get the information they need. The shippers can set these temperature thresholds themselves and set up alerts any time the temperature goes over a certain number.”

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The FourKites system can also alert fleets if a trailer’s defrost cycle goes on longer than it should.

“If a trailer’s going through a defrost cycle for three minutes,” Rajagopalan says, “that’s totally fine because typically the food is packaged well and is not going to be impacted by a short defrost cycle; but if it were to last for thirty minutes, our system would send out automatic notifications. At that point, it’s early enough in the life of the load that the carrier can send a replacement unit if it’s a truck or trailer issue or reroute it to a warehouse to keep everything cold.”

Carrier’s telematics solution for refrigerated trailers was announced last year. According to Brondum, Carrier’s solution provides centralized web-based visibility and management of transport refrigeration assets, including monitoring refrigeration unit set points, out-of-range alerts, ‘proof of temperature’ compliance reports, GPS and geo-fence information, fuel consumption data and refrigeration unit analytics and diagnostics.

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“Use of the telematics solution by refrigerated fleets helps avert load loss by assuring units have enough fuel, are configured correctly and running properly throughout a trip,” Brondum says. “Through two-way service, it can both remotely monitor and control. Control examples include tasks such as starting the unit, selecting temperature setpoints, switching between continuous and start-stop operating modes, defrosting units, clearing alarms and running diagnostic routines.

Another Carrier product geared toward tracking the temperature information needed for FSMA compliance is the DataLink 2 recorder.

“The DataLink 2 recorder provides independent verification of temperatures inside trucks and trailers, and its built-in thermal printer enables immediate documentation for receivers,” Brondum says. “The DataLink 2 system uses up to three independent temperature sensors, providing an added layer of verification beyond the refrigeration system’s built-in recording ability. Drivers can produce numerical and graphical trip reports and data can be downloaded into a personal computer for electronic logging.”

Thermo King’s telematics solution aimed at FSMA compliance for refrigerated units is TracKing, which monitors cargo temperatures and can set and record refrigeration unit settings to reduce spoilage and satisfy the tracking and reporting requirements.

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“TracKing offers a temperature and asset management solution that can integrate temperature data, refrigeration unit operating parameters, trailer locations, and much more. This gives fleets the ability to monitor critical cargo and refrigeration equipment through the dispatch process from pickup to delivery,” Abbott says. “Fleets can also monitor their cargo after hours using the TracKing reefer mobile app.”

For fleets that operate smaller refrigerated trucks and vans, Thermo King also offers TempuTrak, a simpler standalone temperature monitoring solution for those smaller applications.

Great Dane has also developed a telematics for temperature monitoring, Lee notes. “The first phase of the Great Dane telematics system is geared toward location tracking and other vehicle parameters,” he says. “It is hoped that temperature monitoring will be available to our customers in the future to meet expected FSMA requirements set forth by shippers.”

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