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Transit Temperature Instructions

No temperature instructions given to carrier.
Produce Pointers

The Problem: No temperature instructions given to carrier.

The Key Point: Carriers are expected to properly cool fresh produce, even in the absence of temperature instructions.

The Solution: Refer to industry standard references for a reasonable and customary transit temperature setting.

We recently purchased a mixed load of red and white onions out of Southern Texas to be delivered to Jacksonville, FL for export to Puerto Rico. We tendered the load to a refrigerated carrier and instructed the carrier to refer to the bill of lading for transit temperatures. Unfortunately, the transit temperature instruction on the shipper’s bill of lading was left blank, and the carrier, rather than simply asking, decided not to run the reefer unit at all. Two days later, the load arrived with the red onions looking okay, but the white onions in poor condition. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection of the white onions was called for and revealed pulp temps in the mid 70s, with 14 percent decay.

Our customer agreed to accept the red onions and we agreed (with the shipper’s approval) to place the distressed product with a wholesaler in Atlanta for the account of whomever it concerns. We are still awaiting returns, but our customer has issued a chargeback of $2,400 for lost container space on the trip to Puerto Rico. We have put both the truck and the shipper on notice. How would you suggest we assess losses and allocate responsibility in this situation?

Our Transportation Guidelines provide a partial answer to your question: “In the absence of a temperature instruction from the Hiring Party, Carriers are expected to maintain air temperatures as instructed on the bill of lading. In the absence of a temperature instruction on the bill of lading, conformity with the storage temperatures recommended by the USDA or other recognized industry sources may be considered customary and reasonable.” In other words, carriers are not excused from properly cooling fresh produce when no temperature instruction is provided. Per the USDA, onions are to be maintained at 45 to 60 degrees. 

Consequently, the carrier’s failure to provide temperature control, in our view, represents a failure to use due care to protect the product in its possession. The fact that the red onions arrived without appreciable condition defects does not excuse the carrier for losses related to the product that was affected.