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What to consider in a transit temp dispute

Cliff Sieloff

The Problem
Disputes related to transit temperatures.

The Key Point
Destination pulp temperatures are not the best evidence of temperatures in transit.

The Solution
Consider all available information.

Q: We are a truck broker based on the East Coast. Through the years we’ve been involved in many disputes concerning transit temperatures, and occasionally we will hear a carrier or a produce vendor claim that because portable temperature recorders are not considered 100 percent reliable, destination pulp temperatures as shown by a USDA or CFIA inspection should trump temperature reports from portable recorders. Does Blue Book agree with this position?

A: In assessing whether the carrier properly maintained air temperatures in transit, we review all documentation that may help show what the air temperatures within the conveyance were during the trip in question.

We have not taken the position that destination pulp temperatures reflect air temperatures in transit better than temperature recorders (whether portable or reefer based). Rather, our approach is to weigh all the information provided in each case and assess transit temperatures based on the preponderance of the evidence.

In our view, because temperature recorders are designed for the purpose of recording air temperatures, and because they have been widely used for decades by the industry for this purpose, temperature reports from portable recorders should be given considerable weight. We also give considerable weight to temperature reports from reefer systems.

When considering the evidentiary weight to give destination pulp temperatures, several factors should be included: (1) was the product still loaded in the trailer when the USDA or CFIA inspected the product? The evidentiary value of pulp temperatures decreases once the product is unloaded; (2) was the product wrapped in plastic or tightly packed in containers where heat from respiration (or field heat) may have been trapped? And (3) do we know what the pulp temperatures at shipping point were?

Often the bill of lading only contains a temperature instruction and not a statement as to pulp temperatures. Additionally, we must keep in mind the reality that drivers are not always permitted to take pulp temperatures, let alone multiple random samples of pulp temperatures at shipping point.

Depending on the answers to the above questions, it may be that the destination pulp temperatures are not particularly helpful in assessing transit temperatures. Another potential problem with looking exclusively at pulp temperatures is that transit temperatures sometimes vary considerably throughout the trip.

Consider, for example, a load that runs too cold during the first two days of the trip, then too warm the last two days. Depending on how cold the trailer ran in the first two days, and how warm the trailer ran in the last two days, destination pulp temperatures may be too cold, too warm, or within a normal range.

For these reasons, when transit temperatures are disputed, we believe parties should be open to considering all available information that may shed light on what the air temperatures were within the trailer during the trip in question.

Cliff Sieloff is a claims analyst for Blue Book Services’ Trading Assistance group.