In early 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the Safe Quality Food (SQF) rule as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The rule was created to help prevent both intentional and unintentional contamination of the food supply chain from farm to fork. The rule requires those transporting food by motor or rail vehicle to meet the following guidelines for safe and sanitary transportation:
- Trailers must be clean, dry and odor-free.
- If the trailer is temperature-controlled, it must be operating properly and at the correct temperature.
- The trailer must be free of any structural defects in the roof, walls or floor boards.
If a trailer fails to meet these standards, then the carrier must make alternative arrangements.
While federal regulations do not mandate compliance with SQF guidelines, certification in this area sends a signal to manufacturers that logistics providers are adhering to the highest standards by which food is stored, handled and transported. More than a year after the guidelines were passed, however, less than 20 percent of all food-grade warehouses in the United States are SQF certified.
Even though SQF compliance isn’t federally mandated, the repercussions of failure to comply can be felt throughout the supply chain. The lack of awareness about the importance of this certification and its requirements, and lack of training on how to comply with warehouses and logistics providers who are SQF certified, are creating disruptions and delays across the country. For example, if an SQF logistics provider or warehouse rejects a trailer for any reason—i.e., odor, water leakage or poor temperature control—it creates a disruption in the supply chain. Additionally, if a driver doesn’t understand what cleanliness standards are required by an SQF certified warehouse or logistics provider, then he or she will face delays and issues upon arrival for pick-up. The result is added time, added costs and delays in shipment and deliveries—not to mention impacts at the manufacturer, warehouse and end user inventory levels.
The process to obtain SQF certification is a rigorous one, and logistics providers must undergo a thorough administrative audit, in addition to a detailed on-site inspection. Once certified, providers must undergo a recertification process each year, and the on-site inspections are random. As a result, SQF truly is the gold standard by which food is stored, handled and transported—and is crucial to consistent and measured success across the logistics industry. The more we can create awareness around its importance and increase training on the requirements, the more we can ensure a higher integrity of the supply chain and, ultimately, a higher integrity of the products delivered to the end user.
Jamie Overley is CEO of East Coast Warehouse & Distribution, a preeminent SQF-certified 4PL leader offering integrated temperature-controlled logistics services to food and beverage importers. For more information, please visit www.eastcoastwarehouse.com.