Food safety: More lip service?

| 11/7/2007

For more than a year now, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been pushing for a place at the table when it comes to meaningful discussions regarding food safety.

Many in the produce industry admit they “haven’t really thought about truckers” when food recalls are issued even though produce haulers are often in transit with potentially contaminated product. But, once again, the produce industry has demonstrated their lack of willingness to include truckers in developing an industry-wide plan for the entire food supply chain.

Starting today, the United Fresh Research and Education Foundation is offering a hands-on training program, entitled “Training for a recall, communicating under fire,” which is geared toward teaching produce companies, including growers, shippers and others who may be on a produce company’s crisis management team, on “how to prevent a product recall from becoming a crisis.”

The FDA, the United Fresh Produce Association and a law firm are scheduled to give presentations on what to do once a recall is issued. However, Amy Philpott, vice president of marketing and industry relations at the United Fresh Produce Association, said no one will be on-hand to give a presentation on the transportation perspective when produce is recalled and it’s on a produce hauler’s trailer.

“I mean your transportation organizations and companies are definitely one of your audiences that you have to communicate to, but we don’t have a particular transportation company scheduled to speak, but it’s obviously part of the communication plan,” Philpott said. “So it’s giving the entire recall team an idea of what all the different components have to do.”

OOIDA became involved last fall after some of its members were left “holding the bag” with recalled product on their trailers and receivers refused to unload their pallets of potentially contaminated product.

“An all-too-well known phenomenon within the produce industry is to place rejected or recalled product back onto a produce trucker’s trailer,” said OOIDA’s Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist.

Rajkovacz recently issued comments on behalf of the truckers’ association to United Fresh regarding their product recall communications workshop, which doesn’t include a session on how to communicate with truckers who are in transit with the product when a recall is issued.

However, there will be a media training session for produce companies’ recall crisis teams that want to “feel confident when communicating under fire” with a recall is issued.

“There has been much lip service given to inclusion of all parties in the food supply chain when discussing food safety. Unfortunately, words have not matched deeds and inclusion of transportation, especially the dominant providers of the majority of fresh produce transport – small businesses – is still elusive.”

Rajkovacz, a former produce hauler before joining the Association staff full-time more than a year ago, has also testified before the FDA at a public hearing in College Park, MD, about the safety risks involved in hauling produce.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer