November 8, 2017

Shipping Non-Compatible Commodities, Who’s Responsible

By: Tom Oliveri

When shipping fresh fruits and vegetables it is important that the shipper be aware of the compatibility of the products being shipped with temperature, relative humidity, and ethylene exposure. This is especially true when you are shipping LTL (less than truckload).

When shipping on a delivered basis you, as the shipper, are responsible for all the in transit risk, which would include any potential damage that may result from tendering a shipment containing non-compatible commodities. If you are loading a LTL make sure bill of lading instructions are given to the carrier not to load any non-compatible commodities after you have loaded your product. If for some reason your buyer (customer) were to contact the carrier directly and instruct the carrier to load a non-compatible commodity on your truck that would void the suitable shipping condition warranty and you, as the shipper, would look to the buyer for full payment. On the other hand, regarding FOB contracts where the buyer (your customer) is responsible for arranging transportation, all the in-transit risks rests on their shoulders even if non-compatible commodities are also being loaded in the same trailer transporting your product, unless you the shipper loaded those non-compatible commodities. In addition, if you notice a non-compatible product on the trailer that you are about to load, you as the shipper need to immediately put your buyer on notice that you will not be responsible for any damage caused to your product. Document it in writing!

An example of a shipment involving non-compatible commodities might be table grapes being shipped with honeydew melons. Table grapes are to be transported at 32°F whereas honeydew melons require a temperature of 45°F. Therefore, any condition problems associated with high temperatures with the grapes, or for the honeydew melons with any chilling injury would be a risk assumed by the buyer (your customer) and not you the shipper, under the FOB terms of sale.

If you find yourself in a position where your product is about to be loaded on a trailer with non-compatible commodities let your buyer know immediately and advise them that you will not be responsible for any damage caused by shipping non-compatible commodities. Remember that any notification to your customer must be done in writing.  Always document everything when putting your customer on notice. Until you obtain a documented response from the buyer, you should not load the truck, because you may find yourself responsible for knowingly loading a truck where you have knowledge that the load may arrive damaged.

There may be times when your product is the first to be loaded and you will not have any knowledge as to what other commodities will be subsequently loaded in the trailer. If problems arise at destination always ask for the complete manifest from your customer to make sure there were no non-compatible commodities on the truck.

I just had a situation come up on iceberg lettuce, a lettuce shipper had shipped 120 cartons of iceberg lettuce to a customer in New York who had the lettuce inspected. The inspection revealed minimal condition defects except for a large amount of russet spotting which resulted in the lettuce failing to make Good Delivery.  The shipper indicated to me that he did not have any russet spotting issues with any of his other lettuce during the same time period. I suggested that the shipper contact his buyer and request a full manifest of what other commodities were shipped. We were looking to see if any ethylene producing commodities were loaded with the lettuce because iceberg lettuce is extremely sensitive to ethylene. Russet spotting with lettuce is the most common symptom of ethylene exposure. After a few discussions with the buyer he finally turned over the manifest and we found out that besides other iceberg there were also pears and tomatoes on the trailer. Once we made the shipper’s customer aware of the fact that the pears and tomatoes were not compatible with the iceberg lettuce, and was the cause of the russet spotting, the shipper was paid in full for his lettuce.

To assist you on proper temperatures to transport your product here is a link produce fact sheet prepared by the University of California-Davis which also discusses ethylene sensitivity of commodities.

I encourage Western Growers regular members to utilize our services at Western Growers to review and help you interpret your USDA or CFIA inspections as well as commodity compatibility issues.  Please email me at with a copy of the USDA inspection certificate or call me at (949) 885-2269.