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The Long and Winding Road: The FDA’s Proposed Sanitary Food Transport Regulations

posted on Thu, Sep 11 2014 11:08 am by Mathew Swinburne

Our food spends a lot of time on the road before it gets to our homes. One popular estimate figures that our food travels 1,500 miles before reaching our plates. The safe handling of food during transport is a critical component of the food system in the United States, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this year published proposed sanitary food transportation standards — regulations that were well overdue.

Congress passed the Sanitary Food Transport Act of 2005 to help address food safety issues related to transport. This law directed the FDA to create sanitary food transportation standards, but the agency failed to draft the regulations, and as a result Section 111 of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) reiterated the FDA’s duty and set a deadline of July 4, 2012.

The final regulations were not prepared by the July statutory deadline — this and other missed deadlines prompted the Center for Food Safety to file a lawsuit to force the promulgation of overdue FSMA regulations. This lawsuit resulted in a consent decree that established March 31, 2016 as the new deadline for the final transport regulations. On February 5, 2014, the FDA published proposed regulations.

The proposed sanitary food transportation regulations include a wide range of common sense requirements for the shippers, transporters, and receivers of food. The requirements include:

  • Vehicle design and maintenance standards to ensure food is not contaminated in transport, specific transportation practices to ensure proper temperature control
  • Procedures to prevent cross contamination of food
  • Training requirements for personnel
  • Record keeping procedures
  •  Information sharing between shippers, carriers and receivers of food

These regulations will apply to food being transported by motor vehicle or rail; they do not apply to food transported via air or water. In fact, the regulations have several exemptions including businesses with less than $500,000 in annual sales; transportation of shelf stable foods completely enclosed in a container, e.g., canned juices and canned vegetables; and live animal transport. The live animal transport exemption caught the attention of members of the seafood industry who are concerned about the transport of shellfish, which are often shipped and consumed raw. These concerned industry representatives want regulations in place to protect the quality and safety of their product.

The proposed transportation regulations are part of FSMA’s system wide change of food safety in the U.S. This primer on Section 111: Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food will help public health practitioners understand the issues surrounding the proposed regulations. The primer addresses specific food safety requirements of Section 111, the potential economic and other impacts of the regulations, and other important information.

The Section 111 Primer is one in a series of FSMA Primers developed by the Network to highlight the new responsibilities, opportunities and resources required and provided by the FSMA — such as guidance documents, training, grant funding, contract opportunities, and improved situational awareness — that have implications for state and local governments.

If you have any questions regarding the FSMA or food safety in general, please contact the Network’s Eastern Region by email at Get Technical Assistance or by phone at 410-706-5575.  

This blog post was developed by Mathew Swinburne, Staff Attorney, Network for Public Health Law–Eastern Region at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this post does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, RWJF.

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