Many safety-minded companies in the food industry are taking proactive measures to comply with both the current Food Safety Modernization Act statues and anticipated future regulations. These proactive measures—many of them focused on distribution—are helping secure America’s food supply, which ensures safe, reliable food is served at restaurants and kitchen tables across the country. They are also helping companies protect themselves from the damaging and lasting impact of a major product recall.
There are a wide variety of links in the food supply chain. At almost every level—from processing and manufacturing to distribution—loading docks play a significant role in bringing fresh, safe food to consumers. However, there are a host of potential threats related to dock operations that businesses need to address, from cold chain integrity and contamination issues to cargo theft and even terrorist threats.
Cold Chain Integrity
When fresh or frozen foods are being transported, the procedures and equipment needed to maintain the integrity of the cold chain are critical. Any breakdown can adversely affect the quality and freshness of food and, in some cases, lead to serious food contamination. By the time food becomes contaminated, it has often been mishandled in several spots along the food production chain. According to the CDC, loading docks are a frequent area of concern, particularly when refrigerated food is left on a loading dock for long periods of time during warm weather.
When it comes to the loading dock, a common breakdown in the cold chain occurs when the security seal on trailer doors is broken outside the building and the doors are opened in the drive approach, exposing the product to outside elements. If the security seal is broken by the driver, or some other party, companies have no way of knowing if the contents have been tampered with—potentially creating a number of security issues. In addition, product may be exposed to warm weather outside the building, which allows bacteria to grow. Temperature and humidity control also become important once product is unloaded in a facility. Any gaps in the dock station perimeter make it difficult to control environmental conditions. A company’s inability to control temperature and humidity can lead to spoiled or damaged goods.
An unsecured or poorly designed loading dock station creates a gaping hole in a building. These holes are entry points for unwanted pests, including rodents, insects, and other creatures. Cracks of daylight visible from inside a closed dock (often called “white space”) also indicate gaps that can allow dust, snow and other contaminants into a building—not to mention hot outside air. For obvious reasons, this is a major concern when it comes to supply chain integrity. Organizations like the American Institute of Baking International have strict standards when it comes to inspections at food manufacturing facilities and distribution centers. According to its Consolidated Standards for Inspection guide, all external doors, windows, or other openings must be close-fitting or otherwise pest-proofed to less than 0.25 inches or 6 millimeters.
There is an estimated $30 billion in cargo stolen each year in the U.S. with the most highly sought-after shipments being pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, apparel, and food, according to an article in Inbound Logistics. Despite serious efforts by the industry to combat cargo theft, those numbers are still on the rise. In an annual report, FreightWatch stated that there were 794 reported incidents of cargo theft in the U.S. in 2014. Of those, 19 percent—or roughly 150 cases—of all cargo thefts were food and drink items, compared to 16 percent for electronics. Although total thefts were down, the average value of stolen cargo increased 36 percent to more than $232,000 per incident, compared to 2013. The FreightWatch report suggests this is due to “increased organization and innovation on the part of cargo thieves.” Unsecured trailers at busy loading docks are a prime target for cargo thieves, as well as dropped trailers and those left unattended by drivers.
According to the FBI, terrorists consider America’s agriculture and food production tempting targets. America’s food supply is among the most vulnerable and least protected of all potential targets of attack. Terrorists know that a successful agro-terrorism incident threatens America’s economic welfare and its standing as a leading exporter of agricultural products. In fact, when American forces overran al Qaeda’s Afghanistan sanctuaries in 2002, they discovered U.S. agricultural documents and al Qaeda training manuals targeting agriculture.