OOIDA dishes out the “dirty truth” of produce transportation for FDA

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GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) outlined key issues facing the safe transport of fresh produce for the US Food & Drug Administration during a public hearing in College Park, Md. last week.

OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist, Joe Rajkovacz, testified on the significance of unregulated practices in the transportation industry and how unsanitary conditions affect the safety of fresh produce.

“Best practices have been well known for many years, but economic considerations by shippers and receivers have trumped any meaningful implementation,” he said.

During his testimony, Rajkovacz referred to the Mar. 25 episode of Dateline NBC which exposed poor sanitary conditions at a wholesale produce market in Los Angeles. “This story was not shocking to most produce truckers,” Rajkovacz noted in his testimony. “We’ve been forced to live with filthy conditions in this industry for decades.”

Rajkovacz said specific issues relating to the handling and shipping fresh produce include a lack of sanitary bathroom facilities, as well as unsanitary pallet exchange.

The FDA heard that in order to be loaded truckers are often forced to procure pallets from a pallet yard to exchange with a shipper, and that it is not unusual for pallets to be stained with animal blood, residue from chemical shipments or bird and rodent droppings.

Rajkovacz said product recalls, like last years outbreak of E.coli in spinach, have had a negative impact on the industry that has been essentially overlooked by the industry. The recall left many small-business produce truckers with large financial losses as they faced the responsibility of disposing of rejected product. OOIDA officials say it is a common industry practice for shippers and receivers to evade financial responsibility by leaving truckers “holding the bag” when dealing with recalled product.

“We are their dumping ground,” said Rajkovacz, who was a produce hauler for more than 20 years before joining the OOIDA full-time in 2006.

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