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Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

High levels of condition defects.
Dock to Dock

The Problem: High levels of condition defects.

The Key Point: The shipper and carrier must work together to deliver good produce.

The Solution: Avoid trouble by running the reefer unit continuously.

Question: We are a truck broker based in the Southwest. Recently, we were hired by a distributor to arrange for the shipment of a full truckload of mangos and limes from McAllen, TX to a receiver in South Carolina. The bill of lading required that air temperatures be maintained at 48 to 50°F continuously. Upon arrival, the receiver complained of warm pulps and transit temperatures, but did receive the fruit. After salvaging the load, the receiver alleged significant losses. Unfortunately, the carrier failed to run the reefer unit continuously, but the temperature report from the reefer unit does not show warm temperatures. In our opinion, there is no way the air temperatures in transit caused the 28 percent defects affecting the mangos or the 37 percent defects affecting the limes during this relatively short trip. Please review and advise.

Answer: Section (7.2) of Blue Book’s Transportation Guidelines provide the following regarding the carrier’s responsibly to run the reefer unit continuously and maintain air temperatures in transit—

Refrigeration (or “Reefer”) systems should be set to run continuously, and not on a start-stop or cycle basis. Slight deviations in transit temperature based on, among other things, the location and accuracy of the temperature recorder, are inevitable and permissible. What constitutes a “slight deviation” will vary, but as a rule of thumb temperatures within the trailer should not deviate more than four or five degrees Fahrenheit from the agreed-upon transit temperature. If a temperature range is specified, any deviation will be assessed from the midpoint of the specified range. A temperature variance lasting less than twelve hours may also be categorized as a slight deviation, depending on the extent of the variance, the relative perishability of the commodity, and other circumstances, e.g., a shipment involving multiple pick-ups or drops may be expected to experience temperature variance during loading and unloading.

Unfortunately, no portable recorder was placed on board, so we must rely solely on the reefer download and the available pulp temperature information. The return air readings from the reefer download suggest that transit temperatures were, at most, only slightly warmer than the instructed transit temperatures. In fact, according to the download, this shipment ran too cold for much of the trip, cycling between 40.6 and 51.6°F.

This is not typical in our experience. Usually when we review downloads where the reefer unit was set to start-stop or cycle, the restart temperature is significantly warmer than the temperature instructed on the bill of lading. But here, the restart temperature was set just slightly above the instructed temperature, skewing the temperature range colder than the instructed temperature, rather than warmer, as we typically see.

Based on these readings, we would not expect to see significant deterioration of the mangos or limes as a result of the air temperatures maintained in the trailer during this relatively short (two-day) trip. The destination pulp temperatures of 50 to 52°F reported by the timely USDA inspection do not suggest abnormally warm transit temperatures either.