Food fight: Truckers still left holding the bag

| 5/3/2007

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on safely handling and delivering produce. You can read the first part of the series here. But is self-regulation the answer? Growers say yes, truckers say no. Read more about that in the third part here.

While the produce industry has rolled out the proposed Leafy Greens Good Agricultural Practices for leafy green handlers to follow, these “practices” do not address recall or disposal procedures for a key element in the food supply chain –the truckers – who are responsible for hauling the majority of the nation’s produce across the country and into the marketplace.

“This needs to be talked about in the food safety chain – and that’s a link in the chain that needs to be addressed,” said Tim Chelling, vice president of communications for Western Growers.

“The question here is, ‘What about the truckers?’ and that’s a legitimate question. I think that’s a question that should be addressed at any point in the line – whether it’s the California Marketing Agreement or federal discussion about food safety, because it’s a real question.”

Proper disposal procedures for truckers hauling contaminated product are another area OOIDA has been urging the FDA and the produce industry to address. No answers have been given so far.

In his testimony last week before the house subcommittee, Natural Selections President Charles Sweat partially answered a question he was asked by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-TX, regarding his company’s disposal procedures for contaminated produce that tests positive for E. coli and salmonella while still at the processing facilities.

But it’s what he didn’t say that left produce truckers confused.

“What do you do with the affected crops – how do you destroy it?” Burgess asked Sweat.

“We actually put it into an incinerator and document with photos that it’s being destroyed,” Sweat said in his testimony.

But Sweat failed to go into what procedures, if any, are in place once product has been loaded onto trailers and left the processing plants.

Land Line talked to at least four produce haulers who haul in and out of the Salinas Valley on a regular basis said they have never heard of produce being incinerated because of quality issues. All four of those truckers have more than 20 years of experience hauling produce.

Similarly, the Monterey County Air Board wasn’t aware of incineration activities at Natural Selections.

“I checked our permits department and we do not have a permit on file to operate an incinerator at that location,” said Cindy Searson of the Monterey County Air Board.

Repeated phone calls to Natural Selections were not returned.

OOIDA member Randy Tessmer of Gaylord, MN, has been hauling produce for more than 20 years.

“I have never heard of that,” Tessmer said. “I know they dump it into landfills or plow it under, but I haven’t seen them incinerate it.”

Marty Ordman, vice president of marketing and communications for Dole Foods, told Land Line his company’s policy is not to incinerate contaminated produce.

“Our policy is to dispose of contaminated produce like other waste,” he said. “We don’t incinerate.”

When asked about the company’s recall procedures, Ordman said Dole deals with food recalls on a case-by case basis.

“Fortunately, this doesn’t happen frequently, but when this happens drivers are to contact their dispatchers, who work with our logistics and shipping departments to find out where they should take the product,” Ordman said.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer