Carriers and Quality Control

Warm pulp temperatures at destination.

Dock to Dock

The Problem: Warm pulp temperatures at destination.

The Key Point: Carriers do not act as the shipper’s quality control agent.

The Solution: Record pulp temperatures at shipping point as a best practice.

QUESTION:
We are a truck broker with offices throughout the United States and Canada. Recently, we arranged for the transportation of a truckload of mixed vegetables from Central California to the East Coast. Of the 1,248 cases shipped, 634 were rejected by the receiver for warm pulp temperatures. After reviewing the temperature tape and reefer download, we believe the air temperatures in the trailer were properly maintained and that the shipper wants to claim the carrier solely because the driver failed to verify pulp temperatures at loading. We don’t think this is grounds for a claim against the carrier. Do you agree?

ANSWER:
Yes, we would agree. The shipper is responsible for loading product that will make good arrival and otherwise meet the receiver’s specifications at destination, provided transportation conditions are normal. To meet these obligations, the shipper will typically need to ensure the product is properly precooled prior to loading.

The carrier, on the other hand, is responsible for protecting the product in transit by maintaining normal transportation conditions, i.e., properly maintaining air temperatures, using reasonable dispatch, preventing shifting, etc.

It follows then, that the carrier is not responsible for ensuring the product is loaded at the correct temperature. The carrier is not the shipper’s quality control inspector responsible for certifying that the product will arrive at destination within the receiver’s specifications. This is the shipper’s responsibility.

As you know, however, carriers, as a best practice, should take shipping point pulp temperatures to (i) avoid unknowingly taking a high-risk load; (ii) to avoid signing for a pulp temperature listed on the bill of lading, which they have not verified, and which may otherwise be used against them; and (iii) to confirm that they can, in fact, cool the trailer given the pulp temperature of the product.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that the carrier’s responsibilities in this regard are all about maintaining air temperatures in the trailer—if the carrier does this, then it has done its job.

Here, based on the documentation provided, because neither the readings from the portable recorder nor the reefer download are warm, and because no shipping point pulp temperatures appear on the bill of lading, we see no basis for concluding that the carrier is responsible for the warm pulp temperatures and high levels of defects shown on the USDA inspection taken at destination.

What’s more, the wide range of pulp temperatures recorded on the USDA inspection, 35 to 44°F, is also consistent with your suggestion that some of this product was not loaded at the proper temperature and/or in suitable shipping condition.

Your questions? Yes, send them in. Legal answers? No, industry knowledgeable answers. If you have questions or would like further information, email tradingassist@bluebookservices.com.


Doug Nelson is vice president of the Special Services department at Blue Book Services. Nelson previously worked as an investigator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as an attorney specializing in commercial litigation.