The Case for Product Protection at the Dock

Quality is no longer just “job one,” as a popular automaker once touted. Quality is, for food manufacturers, their lifeblood. Whether it is a cold storage or dry warehouse facility, maintaining a clean, temperature-controlled environment that is ideally suited to keeping products fresh can be challenging without the proper equipment.

Temperature control along the supply chain is crucial to maintaining product quality and the safety of frozen and chilled products. Just the softening of product edges can be an invitation for bacterial growth. Though thawing may not necessarily lead to a harmful product, it can affect quality.

For both food service companies and grocers, the other crucial issue is quality perception. Once frozen food thaws and refreezes, cell walls break down, making the product mushy and telling the consumer that something is wrong with the food. According to Rich Barthel, general manager for the Koch Foods Inc. facility in Franklin Park, Ill., “to us and our customers, a bulging box is a damaged box.” To eliminate the risk of the perception of poor quality, many manufacturers toss out all questionable products along with the profits they might have generated.

Dock Door a Major Air Vent

Dock doorways, such as those at Fieldale Farms, are covered and accessible by impactable doors, which release from their guides when hit, yet are easily reset and back in operation in seconds.

Dock doorways, such as those at Fieldale Farms, are covered and accessible by impactable doors, which release from their guides when hit, yet are easily reset and back in operation in seconds.

From the field to the table, the food chain has many links that can affect product quality, and the loading dock is no exception. The dock door can be a major vent for air to escape from the building during loading/unloading. Worse, a closed dock door may not really be closed, allowing energy loss or air infiltration even when not in use.

The invasion of warm outside air through any cracks in the building seal is also a threat for chilled operations, making it more difficult for the DC refrigeration system to keep temperatures at specified levels.

One meat packer points out that as warm air works its way into the dock, it is drawn through the refrigeration coils, threatening ice build-up. The system has to interrupt the cooling cycle to run hot gas through the coils to defrost them, a process that takes about 45 minutes.

Several factors can cause a refrigeration system to labor, and the expense can be considerable. A one-inch gap around a dock leveler pit or dock door can mean the use of approximately one additional ton of refrigerant a year, an additional expense of about $800.

The threat to product quality, however, is not confined to warm weather months. Anderson-Dubose, located in Carnegie, Pa., is a distributor for a major national restaurant chain. Fast food is becoming healthier, and that means an array of salads and other fresh items. Mark Latsko, manager of operations for Anderson-Dubose/Carnegie, points out that product quality is susceptible to cold temperatures as well. “The weather here in western Pennsylvania can dip below zero for a week to 10 days. With salads, tomatoes, fruits, and other produce coming in here, the dock has to be kept above 32°F.”

Temperature control along the supply chain is crucial to maintaining product quality and the safety of frozen and chilled products. Just the softening of product edges can be an invitation for bacterial growth.

At one time, Anderson-Dubose had to rent portable heaters to keep the temperature up. “That creates a safety hazard and additional energy costs, whether we are using electricity or kerosene, as we did during one power outage,” Latsko says.

Dock Doorway the Greatest Threat

The doorway provides the greatest threat of energy loss and air infiltration in the building. A dock can have anywhere from four dock doors for a food processor to dozens of doorways at a distribution center.

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