SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA gains place at the table in food safety debate

| 6/11/2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009 – Major players in the food supply chain met earlier this week to share knowledge and information about ways to protect the nation’s food supply.

Representatives from federal and state food agencies, as well as some from the private sector, were among the attendees at the Association of Food and Drug Officials – AFDO – conference on Monday, June 8, in Oak Brook, IL.

And small-business truckers, who haul the majority of the nation’s fresh food and produce, were represented as well.

Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, was asked to give the transportation perspective on critical issues affecting the supply chain regarding food safety and security.

OOIDA has been critical of the fragmented food system in this country, which has largely ignored the importance of including truckers in meaningful discussions on food safety. However, Rajkovacz said his presentation highlighting transportation as being the “most vulnerable point in the food supply chain” was a “light bulb moment” for many attendees.

“What I spoke about was a real eye-opener for many who were there,” he said. “In the past, some turned to the large motor carriers for the transportation perspective, but in reality, most of these large motor carriers don’t haul fresh foods. Our members do.”

A former produce hauler for 29 years, Rajkovacz spoke about some of the key vulnerabilities in food transportation, including:

  • No mandatory recall procedures when outbreaks occur; 
  • No clear decontamination procedures for trailers that haul food products;
  • Pallet exchange issues (contamination and infestation problems);
  • Lack of sanitary bathroom facilities for drivers who handle food products;
  • Sealing of trailers given “lip service” within the supply chain; and
  • Limited access to safe and secure truck parking for those charged with hauling food.

This spring, OOIDA launched its Transportation Alert Communication and Emergency Response program and announced its participation as a subcontractor in First Observer, the Transportation Security Administration’s new trucking security program. Through OOIDA’s involvement with the TRACER and First Observer programs, a food security in transportation training module is being developed, which Rajkovacz said will be a “great education and communications tool to reach a highly fragmented and diverse driver population.”

“Drivers who haul fresh food and produce bring so much real-world experience to the table when discussing food safety and security issues involving the entire supply chain. And I think our message was heard,” Rajkovacz said.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer