Food safety concerns hit the road
Transportation problems can pose a danger to food safety and may provide an opportunity for theft as well.
The hazards of producing food get a lot of regulatory scrutiny, but transport also poses a food safety risk, an industry expert says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is likely to propose food safety rules for shipping this spring, but that’s not the only reason companies should pay more attention to transportation, said Lance Reeve, a security expert with AIB International.
Food and beverages are the most common types of cargo stolen in transit, Reeve said.
About 27 percent of cargo thefts involve food and beverages, compared to 14 percent for electronics, the next most frequently stolen type of cargo.
“Organized crime is in the food industry now,” Reeve said during the recent Northwest Food Processors Association conference in Portland, Ore.
Food is easy to resell but much harder to track than electronics and other high-value goods, he said.
The relatively short shelf life of many food products thwarts the possibility of long-term investigations, Reeve said.
In some cases, organized crime groups pose as trucking companies, offer attractive prices for shipping and then drive off with the cargo, he said.
In other cases, thieves simply steal the entire truck, Reeve said. “Not only food but transport vehicles are a very high target in this country.”
Companies should be aware of internal threats, like employees who show an unusual interest in security measures, have poor financial conduct or suffer from addiction, he said.
To prevent hijacking, truckers should be required to travel on established routes, park in safe areas and not stop for stranded motorists, Reeve said.
Technology can greatly improve the enforceability of such requirements, he said. Global positioning systems can provide alerts when drivers deviate from routes or open the trailer without authorization.
Such devices can also assist with food safety concerns, such as ensuring that drivers don’t turn off refrigeration to save on fuel, Reeve said.
Food companies should check the commercial driver’s licenses of truckers who are picking up loads and reference their names with the shipping firm, he said.
When receiving loads, companies should ensure the trailer is sealed and not forget to match the seal number with the number on the bill of lading, he said.
“That’s a big gap in security,” Reeve said.
To prevent tampering, food companies should seal boxes with special tape — featuring the firm’s logo, for example — rather than generic tape that can be bought anywhere, he said.
While such steps may seem tedious, they’ve greatly reduced product loss in the electronic and pharmaceutical industries, Reeve said.
On the food safety side, food companies should be wary of improper conditions in loading and unloading areas, Reeve said.
Spilled grains, for example, can attract birds and “avian ejectiles” that can spread salmonella, he said.
Food manufacturers should also be prepared to reject loads that were delivered in unsanitary trucks, or those with damaged sidewalls that can allow for rodent infestation, he said.
If companies don’t complain about such problems, they’re likely to face them more often, Reeve said. “Make sure your transportation companies have good pest management programs set up.”