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FAQ: Interpreting Transit Temps

Transit temperatures are at the heart of countless trading and transportation disputes involving fresh produce. Vendors and carriers alike find themselves embroiled in disputes about temperature.

Between buyers and sellers these disputes often hinge on whether there has been a breach of the warranty of suitable shipping condition. This warranty applies when produce is sold on an FOB basis and is essentially the seller’s promise that the product will arrive at the contract destination without abnormal deterioration (i.e., make “good arrival”) provided air temperatures in transit (and other transportation conditions, e.g., time) are normal.

If air temperatures within the trailer were too warm, it may be difficult or impossible for the buyer to prove the seller failed to ship the product in suitable shipping condition. After all, warm temperatures speed the development of the deterioration sellers conditionally promise will not be present upon arrival at destination.

Without recourse against the seller, buyers are left to pursue recovery of their losses from the carrier, where once again transit temperatures are at the heart of the matter. In this article we identify and respond to some frequently asked questions Blue Book Services receives regarding transit temperatures.

When looking at a reefer download, should we be looking at the supply air temperatures or the return air temperatures?
When warm temperatures are alleged, we look first to the return air readings. However, when cold or freezing temperatures are alleged, the supply air readings tend to be more relevant.

If, for example, a carrier is alleged to have caused freezing injury, an obvious starting point is to check to see if supply air readings dipped below the highest freezing point for the commodity in question (usually between 29 and 32°F) for long enough to freeze the product. A momentary dip in air temperatures will not usually be sufficient to reduce pulp temperatures below the highest freezing point.

Does operating mode matter?
Yes. Reefer units are expected to run continuously to “wick away” heat from product. When a unit is improperly set to run on a start-stop basis, heat from respiration (and/or any field heat) is trapped during cycles where cool air is not circulating.

Which is more important: the temperature readings from a reefer unit or a portable temperature recorder?
All available temperature information should be considered. It must be remembered that carriers are expected to maintain air temperatures throughout a 53-foot trailer (i.e., protect the product throughout the trailer) and that readings from reefer units and portable recorders are taken from different locations.

Accordingly, air temperature readings from a single location may be sufficient to show a breach of the contract of carriage.

How warm is too warm? How cold is too cold?
Blue Book’s Transportation Guidelines provide—
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 (4) or five (5) 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 (12) 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 pickups or drops may be expected to experience temperature variance during loading and unloading. Nothing in this Section should be interpreted to suggest a temperature deviation was slight, and therefore permissible or excused, when product has been frozen in transit.

This rule of thumb is intended as a reference point and should not be applied rigidly. Claims must be considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, a temperature variance lasting less than 12 hours may still represent a breach of the contract of carriage depending on the severity of the variance.

Doug Nelson is Vice President of Trading Assistance for Blue Book Services Inc.