May 9, 2016

Temperatures at Origin, In-transit and Destination all Affect Claims

By: Tom Oliveri

Western Growers’ Trade Practices and Commodity Services Department not only specializes in assisting members with PACA and DRC complaints, but also assists in the handling of carrier claims. 

Just recently, an Arbitration Decision & Award on a transportation claim emphasized to me the importance of documenting temperature throughout the movement of your produce. The parties in this dispute agreed to utilize the services of the Produce Reporter Company “The Blue Book” in its binding arbitration procedure. Because this Decision issued by the Blue Book is on point and very well researched and soundly written, I want to share it with you because it speaks to many issues which I have written about in previous blogs pertaining to temperature and the cold chain.

The dispute concerned a shipper selling a retailer broccoli florets and brussel sprouts and vegetable trays from California to Florida. Upon arrival in Florida, the retailer complained about warm temperatures affecting the broccoli florets and brussel sprouts, and rejected these products, while keeping the vegetable trays. Following the retailer’s refusal to accept the broccoli florets and brussel sprouts, the product was taken to Atlanta for salvage to minimize losses.

The retailer’s photos indicated the pulp temperatures of the broccoli florets were 47.8°F and 56°F. In contrast, the air temperatures reading from the portable recorder placed on the load indicated air temperature in the mid-forties throughout the trip, eight to ten degrees warmer than the 34-35 degree temperature requested by the shipper on the bill of lading instructions.

In response to the warm temperature, the trucker submitted the Trailer Refrigeration Unit (TRU) download indicating temperatures of 36-38 degrees.

It was noted by the arbitrator in his conclusion:

  1. That the shipper recorded the pulp temperature of the product at shipping point and it was signed and acknowledged by the trucker at 35°F., which documented that the product was properly precooled at shipping point.
  2. According to the USDA’s Handbook, 669, Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck, broccoli has the highest respiration rate of any fruit or vegetable commonly traded in North America, which is the primary reason why traditionally broccoli is packed in ice when shipping long distances. In this case the broccoli florets were iceless.
  3. The pulp temperatures of the broccoli florets and brussel sprouts at contract destination were well-above the recommended storage temperatures for these commodities, and well-above the retailer’s product temperature specification of 32-43 degrees. The portable recorder reflected elevated transit temperatures (mid-40s) and the TRU download indicating temperatures of 36-38 degrees. The arbitrator ruled in response to the warm temperature readings reported by the portable recorder, CARRIER does not argue that this recorder malfunctioned, but rather asserts that the temperature logging functionality of the reefer unit is more accurate than the temperature recording of the portable recorder; and therefore suggests we should refer predominately (or exclusively) to the temperature readings recorded by the reefer unit.  But, of course, the industry has relied on basic portable recorders (more basic than what was used here) affixed to the product packaging for decades because they tend to be both accurate and reliable

The Blue Book ruled in its Decision & Award in part: “given the warm transit temperatures suggested by the portable recorder, and the respiration characteristic of broccoli florets, we do not believe the warm receiving temperatures noted by the retailer are sufficient to overcome the presumption created by the driver’s signature on the pick ticket and bill of lading, which suggests the product was properly cooled at shipping point.

For these reasons, we find that the preponderance of the evidence suggest that the carrier failed to properly maintain air temperatures in transit causing the warn pulp temperatures complained of at destination, and leading to the rejection of the broccoli that is subject to this claim.”

To review the entire Decision & Award please click here.

There are several lessons from this decision. 1) Review your bill of lading. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to add pulp temperatures and a check box for the driver to sign off on those temperatures. 2)  Please consider a pre-load check list that among other things also includes pulp temperatures for the driver to initial click here. By taking these measures, it further documents your best practices and indicates to your buyer and carriers alike that you, as a shipper, focus on details to make sure product is always placed in the trailer with optimum intention to have it arrive at contract destination in good order. 

Should you have any questions or wish for me to review your documents, please contact me at or 949-885-2269.