In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act expanded the domain of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration beyond regulating food producers alone.
“Everyone in the entire food supply chain is now responsible to the FDA,” says Allen Warner, director of quality for Oakley Transport (CCJ Top 250, No. 139). “The FDA had rarely walked into a trucking company before, so that puts us on a different level of inspection and responsibility.”
With the FDA’s broad authority to regulate the food supply chain, motor carriers began to investigate how the agency’s new rules would impact their organizations. The wheels of government turned slowly.
“It kept going on,” says Tommy Oakley, president and chief executive officer of the Lake Wales, Fla.-based company. “The (FDA) would pass the ball from one group to another, and it never got traction”
As the process dragged along, Oakley saw an opportunity to take the lead. Tommy, and the management team, began working with customers and trade groups such as the Juice Products Association, which represents the fruit and juice products industry, to establish standards and best practices for food safety and food defense.
Having been in the food industry since 1961, Oakley Transport had become familiar with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications. Many of the fleet’s customers had quality management systems; most motor carriers in the food sector did not.
More than three years ago, Oakley Transport’s management team decided to earn ISO certifications without being pushed by regulations or prodded by customers. The company started on this path to get ahead of FDA and customer requirements.
“We try to look five to 10 years ahead and see where we are at,” Oakley says.
ISO 9001 is an internationally recognized standard for quality management. ISO 22000 sets requirements for a food safety management system, but leaders saw opportunities to improve customer service, safety and other areas beyond food safety.
“The whole program is customer-focused,” Warner says.
Soon after Oakley Transport started on this path, the company hired Warner to steer its ISO certification process. He came from a 35-year career at Pepsi, where he led quality initiatives.
“We realized we had to convert a trucking company into a food hauler of all bulk commodities,” Warner says. “It sounds simple, but the company is much different now. We are no longer just a trucking company, but we are a food transporter that is customer-focused.”
Among the first orders of business was to revamp the fleet’s training programs, focus employees and change its culture to that of a food transporter.
Whereas many over-the-road carriers will dispatch a new driver after only a couple of days of training at the office, Oakley Transport’s driver orientation training takes a minimum of five days and can last up to two weeks.
“Most trucking companies want to feed the machine and get (drivers) producing,” says Ryan Walls, director of risk management and driver relations. “We can’t do that with what we do.”
In retrospect, creating new quality management policies and procedures for employee background checks, seal security, tank washes and other areas was the easy part. The harder part was change management.
“It was pretty painstaking, because we had to change the whole culture of the company,” Oakley says. “People had to be thinking these things every day, know the processes, and if they had a problem, they had to know where to go look for it.”
As Oakley Transport rolled out new quality management and continuous improvement programs, its customers and vendors took notice.
“The last thing we want and the customer wants is to contaminate food anywhere,” Walls says. “We absolutely work with customers to make sure their products are coming onto and leaving our trucks in pure form. That for us is the end game.”
Some shipper customers have asked Oakley Transport to certify the quality of their own private tank washes. The fleet welcomes such opportunities to audit its customers and vendors to help them be better, Warner says.
The focus on quality recently led to an alliance with one of its vendors, Quala, which operates more than 60 wash locations nationwide.
“They put in some first-class food bays for us, ” Oakley says. “We also partnered with them to put in terminals at their locations, which has created great efficiencies for us.”
Last year, the Juice Products Association, which includes many of Oakley Transport’s customers, held a meeting at the fleet’s headquarters to draft new testing specifications for the quality of tank washes nationwide.
“Food safety and defense has to be taken seriously,” Warner says. “When you help a customer or a supplier, everybody wins.
Unlike any food transport company, Warner says Oakley takes its customer complaints one step further and tracks its own internal errors. The company also conducts random simulated mock recalls to insure that the processes in place are being followed. Findings are acted upon and changes are made to continuously improve its processes.
Sometimes an error or “rejection incident” may be a shipper issue such as the loading of the wrong product in a tank trailer. Also, a shipper or receiver may have a capacity issue and not be prepared to take 7,000 gallons of product upon delivery.
Any type of incident, no matter how minor, is investigated by a team to conduct a root cause analysis and come up with a solution.
Oakley Transport’s acceptance rate — or loads without a rejection incident — currently is above 99.8 percent, which represents more than a “3 sigma” in terms of quality, Warner says. “We will continue to strive for improvement everyday and serve the needs of our customers by providing on-time delivery of cargo in the same condition that it was received.”
Oakley Transport also formed a cross-functional Performance Excellence Team that meets at least once per month to review all of the company’s quality initiatives and to discuss process improvements, Warner says. Each department has a subcommittee that executes the plans.
The fleet also works with its vendors and customers on quality initiatives. Trailer seal policies are one area where improvements have been made.
“We work with suppliers and shippers to make sure food stays safe throughout the entire supply chain,” Warner says. “For instance, some might use plastic seals. We insist on using a steel cable. This is much more difficult to cut or have an issue with.”
Every time drivers make a stop along a route to fuel or for another reason, they must inspect all trailer seals and send a macro message through the in-cab computing system to verify all seals are intact.
Upon delivery, drivers can use a mobile app to scan the bills of lading with the seal numbers written on the paper. The company strives to make things as efficient as possible for drivers.
“We are continually working to streamline the process for the drivers wherever we can,” says Zane Schwenk, director of national customer service. “It makes our lives easier, and it really makes the lives of our drivers easier who have one of the toughest jobs.”
In August, Oakley Transport completed the certification process for ISO 22000:2005 and ISO 9001:2015, becoming the first liquid food grade transportation company globally to earn both.
“This process has been a challenge, but it’s been terrific,” Oakley says. “It’s the best thing we have ever done with the company.”