The Cold Carrier Certification program turns four.
By Karen E. Thuermer

In an effort to assist carriers to conform to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, GCCA developed the Cold Carrier Certification Program in June 2018.

Over the four years that the Cold Carrier Certification has been in place, the program has helped transportation companies become compliant with FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation of Food (STF) requirements. “GCCA is very pleased with the success,” says Don Durm, Vice President of Strategic Customer Solutions at PLM Fleet, Board Chairman of GCCA Transportation and Cold Carrier Certification Task Force member.

Overall, the Cold Carrier Certification program is designed to recognize asset-based carrier organizations for their commitment to the sanitary and safe transportation of perishable products.

The program provides independent, third-party assurance that an asset-based carrier company is aligned with industry-prescribed best practices for the safe and sanitary transport of food perishables.

Essentially, the value of the Cold Carrier Certification program is two-fold. Internally, it invites a review of best practices and creates an opportunity to re-engage drivers and staff on critical temperature control processes. Externally, it differentiates certified carriers from other carriers by demonstrating that cold chain practices relative to the safe transportation of food are verified by a third party, giving customers confidence to entrust their refrigerated and frozen shipments to participating carriers.

It is a best practice to review association industry documents from time to time. The Refrigerated Transportation Best Practices Guide (BPG) was published in 2016, and is in the process of being updated.

IRTA, at the time a core partner of GCCA, worked with cold chain industry professionals and other stakeholders to develop the “Refrigerated Transportation Best Practices Guide,” which Cold Carrier Certification program participants agree to use. The BPG spells out industry best practices to help shippers, loaders, carriers by motor or rail vehicle, and receivers involved in transporting human and animal food to use documented sanitary practices to ensure the safety of that food.

Members of IRTA’s successor, GCCA Transportation, have volunteered to review the current BPG and identify any modifications, unclear items or missing subject areas.

The review group will compile a list of issues and decide how and when to address them through the GCCA Transportation Board of Directors. Since the BPG is the foundation reference for the Certified Cold Carrier program, the Transportation Board of Directors will also consider how any modifications affect the Cold Carrier Certification criteria.

The GCCA Transportation members participating in the BPG review group are PLM Fleet, J.B. Hunt, United States Cold Storage Transport, FLGO Freight and Midwest Refrigerated Services, Inc.

Program Components

The Cold Carrier Certification has two components. First, the carrier applicant must complete the criteria table found within the application form by indicating each proof of conformance. Second, members of the carrier’s management team – those with direct oversight of drivers – will demonstrate knowledge of best practices in critical aspects of the refrigerated transport industry.

Carrier management takes the Cold Carrier Certification proof of knowledge assessment. The feedback that GCCA has received from participants is that the program has been great in confirming that many of their current operational business practices are compliant with the rule. Additionally, participants note it has been eye-opening to go through the certification process and see the gap analysis of where they needed to strengthen their processes.

Durm points out that another bonus of the Cold Carrier Certification has been the industry’s recognition of their participation in the program to achieve the highest industry certification of their commitment to food safety in transportation.

Benefits of Certification

Since the STF Rule specifically states 33 times that it will rely on “industry best practices,” the Cold Carrier Certification has provided industry with that benchmark of refrigerated best practices that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized. GCCA has co-presented the Cold Carrier Certification program with FDA at industry conference events.

“This is important because the Cold Carrier Certification program helps carriers ensure they are aligned with industry refrigerated best practices, and also aligned across the carriers’ network to ensure they are consistently compliant with the STF Rule,” points out Durm.

An additional benefit of the Cold Carrier Certification has been its acceptance by shippers that understand the high standards that certification from GCCA brings to the table in ensuring that shippers’ are meeting their FSMA requirements.

“Certification can mean the difference between getting the business and not getting the business,” Durm says. “It is much like any food safety certification; I really don’t want to go in myself and inspect each and every shipper for everything related to food safety. I am really asking if my carrier has obtained certification by a recognized industry body on the highest standards in food safety transportation best practices and compliance.”

In addition, the Cold Carrier Certification program saves transportation companies time and money. “Coming out of the pandemic, warehouse and driver challenges continue to plague the industry with turnover and difficulty filling the open positions,” Durm says. “The Cold Carrier Certification program provides documented use of the ‘Refrigerated Transportation Best Practices’ that reduces food waste, improves operational fleet efficiency, saves on fuel consumption and, of course the core of the program, delivers on our promise to transport safe nutritious food to the consumer.”

Specific Outcomes

Companies that participate in Cold Carrier Certification use the program to achieve specific outcomes.

Prime, Inc., a refrigerated, flatbed, tanker, logistics and intermodal transportation company, for example, utilizes it to show compliance with the FSMA when questioned by its customers.

“Essentially, the Cold Carrier Certification validates the company’s standard operating procedures,” explains Patricia Brewer, Training Specialist, Prime, Inc. “Going through this process helped us verify we were doing the right things plus some. It is one thing to know that we are compliant but even better to be able to actually illustrate what it is that we are doing to be compliant.”

“Since receiving our certification in 2019, more than 80 J.B. Hunt employees have completed the Cold Carrier Certification program,” reveals Greer Woodruff, Senior Vice President of Corporate Safety, Security and Driver Personnel at J.B. Hunt. “This program provides third-party assurance that J.B. Hunt is aligned with the industry’s best practices for safe and sanitary transportation.”

Participation in the Cold Carrier Certification program also helps companies prepare for audits.

“Having all of the information organized helps in accessing and providing the information in a very timely fashion when asked,” Woodruff says. “We don’t have to scramble around and figure it out. It’s right there at our fingertips.”

Some participants have commented in the past that they planned to use the certification as a driver recruitment tool (see Cold Facts, “Certified Cold Down the Road,” May-June 2020). Brewer admits the program hasn’t really had an impact on recruiting, but it has benefited the company by providing information and education.

“For driver education, we know that we have the information for them,” she says. “It gives us a way to review more clearly what we are doing and make plans for adjustment for future training.”

Attaining Cold Carrier Certification also offers a return on investment. “The certification process provided us a clearer method to communicate the ways in which we are compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Brewer says. “Anytime we are questioned, we have the data to pull out to illustrate our compliance.”

“We have a couple of customers who had asked us about having the rating,” Brewer explains. “We reviewed the program and decided that it would be a good process to go through to confirm our compliance. We record having Cold Carrier Certification in our list of certifications.”

J.B. Hunt finds that its customers value having standardized procedures, expectations and transport solutions. “Our certification has enabled J.B. Hunt to explore new opportunities in the temperature-controlled market,” Woodruff says. “Cold Carrier Certification displays our commitment to the safe transportation of our nation’s food supply and represents the hard work and attention to detail our drivers and personnel provide on a daily basis.”


KAREN E. THUERMER is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Virginia, who specializes in economic and logistics issues. EMAIL:


September 1, 2023


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