New federal rules will impact food fleets

Sept. 1, 2009
FOR FOODGRADE tank truck fleets, the time has come to brace for a new round of government involvement. This legislative and regulatory onslaught almost

FOR FOODGRADE tank truck fleets, the time has come to brace for a new round of government involvement. This legislative and regulatory onslaught almost certainly will bring more federal oversight and higher operating costs.

Even the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is getting in on the regulatory act. Earlier this month, CBP announced that it would no longer allow cargo tanks containing any type of residual product to be classified as empty when they enter the United States.

All containers with cargo residue — regardless of product or amount — will need to be manifested and entered in compliance with all customs laws, which include advanced notice of the of the product, its origin point, and the actual amount of residue for purposes of manifesting and entry. The only other choice for fleets is to completely clean the cargo tank so it qualifies as empty.

Cleaning is less of a problem for tank trailers entering from Canada, because there are a reasonable number of Canadian wash racks that meet US standards for foodgrade cleaning. Mexico will be more of a problem. Just a handful of foodgrade wash racks are available in Mexico, but that actually puts foodgrade tank fleets in better shape than chemical haulers.

This initiative will have a big impact on trade with Canada and Mexico and the tank truck carriers that are involved in that trade. At the very least, it will mean higher operating costs and a lot more paperwork.

That is just the beginning of the legislative and regulatory action that is looming for foodgrade tank fleets. Increasing attention is being focused on food safety across the entire supply chain.

Food safety in the United States is no longer improving, and it is time to re-evaluate the way an American meal makes its way from farm to table, according to the annual report from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). Rates of salmonella have shown the least improvement of several food-borne illnesses the agency tracks.

President Obama highlighted the food safety issue in his weekly radio address earlier this year. Rep Bart Stupak, D-MI, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said “it's no longer a matter if the (Food and Drug Administration) will be reformed, but rather when and how.”

According to some estimates at the beginning of this year, there were more than 30 pieces of legislation pending in Congress that would deal with food security and safety. Some legislation is going to pass, and it will create new federal regulations affecting the transportation of food commodities, as well as food processing.

At least three food safety bills were introduced in the House of Representatives — H R 759, H R 1332, and H R 875. In the Senate, S 510 was introduced as a companion bill to H R 1332.

Of the House bills, the most extreme was H R 875, which was proposed by Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-CT. This bill would have significantly expanded federal authority to regulate interstate commerce. It would have created a Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Various functions and resources would have been transferred to the new agency from FDA and other agencies. An extensive tracking system would have been required to follow each food shipment from beginning to end.

Elements of the various House bills were combined into a single piece of legislation — H R 2749 — which was passed by the House of Representatives on July 30. Key objectives would be to increase funding for FDA's food safety activities, require more food company oversight and food safety risk analysis, test and evaluate new methods for tracking/tracing food shipments, and give FDA more authority to shut down food operations that pose serious adverse health consequences or death.

Titled the “Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009,” the bill would require all parties in the food production chain, including transporters, to devise and implement a plan to address food safety hazards and prevent contamination. The bill would direct DHHS to establish a tracing system for food shipments. Companies that produce, manufacture, process, pack, transport, or hold food “would have to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food.”

The bill also would impose registration and fee requirements on facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food. The fee would be $500 per facility to a maximum of $175,000 for a company with multiple facilities. These requirements should not apply to transporters, unless they provide storage in addition to transportation, according to the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference of the American Trucking Associations. However, all of us know that all bets are off if the federal government needs more money.

Next stop for this legislative juggernaut is the Senate. With the current mood in Congress, there is little doubt that food safety legislation will pass in the Senate and probably with very little delay or debate.

Now is the time for food fleet managers to read this legislation and discuss any critical problem areas with their Senators. It's also time to begin looking ahead toward implementation of the rules that will be issued following passage of the legislation.

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About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.