Who is Responsible for Maintaining Food Temperature?
The cold chain involves a great many players, and everyone involved has their own responsibilities for ensuring products arrive safely at their final destinations. This is very similar to how things work in any other supply chain. Everyone from manufacturers to drivers to retailers and beyond needs to do their part. However, with the cold chain, there’s another crucial factor to consider: temperature, and the highly perishable products that rely on a specific temperature range.
Should a product arrive above acceptable temperatures, or become spoiled along the way, it creates an issue for each link in the supply chain. It also means that the products ordered won’t be available, or safe, for consumers. This brings us to the larger question: who is responsible for maintaining temperatures in the cold chain?
Responsibility Throughout the Cold Chain
Each link in the cold chain should ensure that shipments adhere to food safety regulations. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine exactly where temperature excursions occur, especially if there aren’t records for the products through each link of the chain. When products leave a warehouse, they should be at proper, safe temperatures. When they arrive at retailers, the stores should check temperatures of sensitive products to ensure they’re safe for sale. And of course, while the shipment is in transit, the logistics company must provide proper equipment and conditions to keep perishable foods at adequately low temperatures.
Having each party involved take care of food safety at their end should be expected. However, when a shipment of perishable products arrives already spoiled, who is to blame (i.e., who is the party considered responsible for maintaining food temperature until the final destination)?
The answer actually depends on the regulatory agency making the determination, and the region in which the shipment occurs. For example, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary agency in charge of determining food safety regulations. And, according to the FDA, the burden of providing a cold, suitable container for perishable food lies primary with the shipping companies.
Why does the burden fall on shippers and providing companies?
With so many different steps involved in the cold chain, it might be hard to accept that the burden should fall on the shippers and manufacturers. However, when taking a closer look at the manufacturing and shipping process, we can see the reason behind the FDA’s decision. Of course, this is all to assume that the perishable products were sufficiently cold and in good condition when received by a logistics company.
The carrier company does need to ensure they have the capability to maintain certain temperatures. This alone is a good share of the burden of the cold chain. They also need to agree to certain measures to verify temperatures, and maintain vehicles or any store points to ensure they’re in good condition and meeting expectations. However, the shipper (i.e. the provider or shipper) has the detailed knowledge of the sensitive products they’re shipping. This means the shipper should know what acceptable temperature ranges are, how long a temperature excursion is acceptable for, how far out of ideal ranges the temperatures can vary (for a short period of time), and how often temperatures for food safety should be checked.
That also means that companies shipping sensitive food products have the obligation to verify the conditions of carrier vehicles before they ship their products out. If, for some reason, the carrier vehicle isn’t at acceptable temperatures, they have the responsibility to delay shipments until a suitable alternative is found.
It’s also important to consider that carrier companies don’t necessarily know the specifics regarding the safe temperatures of sensitive foods until the shipper tells them. If carriers aren’t aware of the environmental needs, it’s difficult to expect them to accommodate those needs. That’s also why most regulatory bodies expect shippers to provide carriers with written documentation of the environmental needs of their sensitive food products.
Responsibilities of each party:
Within the cold chain, although the majority of the burden is on transporters to ensure safe arrival, every party still has responsibilities delegated to them by the FDA and other regulatory bodies.
- Clearly communicate necessary temperatures for shipments to transport companies
- Provide written declaration of temperature requirements
- Verify proper temperature of refrigerated trucks and cargo containers before loading shipments
- Agree upon monitoring or temperature checking methods with chosen carriers
- Retain written records of specifications and agreements given to carriers
- Provide equipment and vehicles with sufficient cooling ability
- Maintain carrier vehicles to ensure maintenance of cool, controlled environment
- Reach an agreement with shipper to check/verify perishable food temperatures
- Train all employees for food safety and regulations
- Keep training records for all employees for at least one year after carrier employees no longer work in the same role
- Check for acceptable temperatures upon receipt of shipments
- Maintain sufficiently cool area for storing sensitive foods
- Enact regular temperature checks before foods are purchased
- Reject shipments found unsuitable for consumption and purchase