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Keeping Cold Foods Cold and the Food Safety Modernization Act

Contributed by Joanne C. Kelleher

Do you rush home from the grocery story so your milk, eggs and meat don’t sit too long in the warm car? I know I do. In the summer, I sometimes I even pack them in a cooler or wrap them in a blanket to keep them at the proper temperature for the 12 minute ride home.

How safe to eat do you think your groceries would be if they were left in the hot car for hours? Unfortunately, this is what is happening with food transported by some trucks that are delivering to local restaurants or grocery stores. TODAY National Investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reported on this issue on 8/23/2012.

Rossen Reports: Some trucks carry unsafe food, authorities say

A hidden health hazard in some of the food you buy: Authorities say the trucks delivering that food to stores may be putting your family at risk.

This Today/MSNBC story generated a lot of conversation in our office both from a disgust factor, as well the fact that this problem could easily be monitored. For example, there are sensors that attach to the inside of the truck and can monitor the overall interior temperature.  Because of the way the pallets are packed, the products in the center of the truck may be insulated by the products along the outer edge. To get a more accurate picture, another option is to put a temperature sensor, such as SecureRF’s LIME 2 RFID tag, on at the case or individual product level to monitor cold-chain shipments. When a store is presented with the delivery, they could check to see if the products were every outside of the acceptable temperature limits and then decline to accept them if there is an issue.

As the Rossen Report discusses, the FDA was directed by Congress in 2005 to come up with stricter guidelines for food trucks with an updated deadline of July 2012. As of January 4, 2013, two rules to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) have finally been released and are open to a public comment period for 120 days.

FDA proposes new food safety standards for foodborne illness prevention and produce safety

The first rule proposed, Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food, would require makers of food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing foodborne illness. The rule would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.

The second rule, Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, proposes enforceable safety standards for the production and harvesting of produce on farms.

Additional rules to follow soon include new responsibilities for importers to verify that food products grown or processed overseas are as safe as domestically produced food and accreditation standards to strengthen the quality of third party food safety audits overseas. The FDA will also propose a preventive controls rule for animal food facilities, similar to the preventive controls rule proposed today for human food.

The holding portion of these rules addresses cold storage, but none of these rules addresses the shipment of food products. So, for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be little federal oversight over maintaining foods at the proper temperature during transportation. In the meantime pay attention to the packaging of the food you purchase. Meat dripping stains or soggy cardboard may indicate the product wasn’t stored at the proper temperature. Let the buyer beware.