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Two Are Better Than One

Once August begins, a series of family wedding anniversaries begin. Now that my family is aging, some of these marital track records are reaching serious milestones. My parents would have reached 63 years if Mom was still with us, and my brothers are both right around 40 years. Mark and I will be married 27 years this October.

It’s been mostly bliss. Mostly.

Marriage, as we all know, comes with its ups and downs. We have to manage the challenges to reap the rewards. On days where we are tempted to throw out a ‘take it or leave it’ we know that perseverance and patience produce the relational fruit of health and happiness.

Building a strong, satisfying, and enduring life together requires working together. Both people have ‘skin in the game’ and are willing to invest whatever is necessary of their own to bring benefit to the other.

As I was thinking about our family’s anniversaries, something about the effort involved in building a sustainable marriage drew my mind to compliance. Our company has been working diligently with our carriers to make sure they understand the FDA’s Sanitary Transportation Rule (STR), including their need to be compliant.

Under this FSMA regulation, the government is now holding people who transport food legally accountable for applying food safety principles and procedures in transportation. Rather than adopt a ‘wait and see’ response to how this would affect our business, we rolled up our sleeves, read the rule, separated the sections and wrote protocols with procedures based on over twenty years of experience and knowledge about transporting fresh produce.

The process was straightforward, and we found that using food safety concepts and applying them to transportation related activities was helpful as they provided structure to what initially seemed to be a daunting task. It took time because there are so many areas in food transportation that definitely present risks, but utilizing science based food safety processes seemed to keep things wonderfully organized.

However, as the sections came together one ‘requirement’ became clear--namely, the necessity of strong, supportive relationships that become the glue in a food safety transportation compliance plan.

This is where many marriage anniversaries are helpful in illustrating the value of meaningful alliances. Yes, a few unions fall outside of this example, but often at the core of lengthy marriages lies foundational commitments of loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness and sacrifice.

Like a good marriage, relationships within a company as well as those outside with vendors, suppliers and definitely customers are vital. Ignored, disregarded or worse, disrespected, connections that directly affect how a company’s food safety plan is practiced will lead to disrepair and failure in potentially critical situations.

Alternatively, building and implementing a food safety plan with features in place that support these partners in food safety compliance will best prepare and position a company for success (or survival) in challenging food safety problems.

As an example coming from our own company, we have been working diligently with our carriers to help them become compliant with the STR.

What is noticeable about our progress in this project is that the quality of the relationship we have with a carrier directly affects, or influences our success in helping these companies develop and implement food safety plans.

Some of these folks either resist completely or are comfortable with the bare minimum in providing us with documentation. We have become a ✔ mark in their compliance.

However, our carriers that understand the value of being fully STR compliant, both with us and in their own companies, these carriers are cooperating with us and truly working toward a mutual compliance that will satisfy both of our food safety plans.

Our reputation with these companies has built a foundation of trust and helpfulness. We make decisions and take action in ways that benefit us both. As in all other areas of our business, our focus on the relationship is now a key ingredient to successfully bringing each other into STR compliance.

Here are two realities for all of us now involved in transportation of food.

Reality #1, the STR mandates that we have relationships with people that move food with us.

Our lists of best practices and specifications are implemented by people who are in a relationship with us. Carriers transport another company’s fresh produce, shippers load a carrier’s trailer, a loader may be loading a 3rd part shipper’s product, and receivers are unloading a carrier’s trailer load of a shipper’s fresh produce. See, all dependent on another’s best practices.

Reality #2 to consider is that a company that understands, and acts, on Reality #1 will be ahead of the game, which is one of the goals of all food safety plans. Proactive is a word that is always part of food safety discussions. Managing and supporting the critical relationships that are necessarily part of a company’s food safety transportation plan will position them as leaders in the industry and protect their brand and their customers.

Our company has freight and carrier customers that are vital to our long term success. This means that compliance cannot be reduced to a checklist, which is often what happens in food safety efforts.

Just like our marriages will suffer irreparable harm if the relationship becomes a series of do’s and don’ts without regard for how they affect the overall health and welfare of the marriage, so too will the partnerships with our customers, employees and other people who influence the success of our company’s food safety compliance plan.

You will have many decisions to make as your company develops and implements an STR compliance plan. Try to include, along with your checklists, responsibilities and outcomes that build and support your company’s alliances, remembering that they have a significant role in fulfilling the specifications in your food safety plan.

Think of a happy marriage! Sacrifice and willing service, bolstered by clear, kind and honest communication, result in delighted, confident relationships that will not only yield rewarding profits but will create a relationship that doesn’t leave you wondering if your company is compliant with the STR.

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