Refrigerated containers in which fruit and vegetables are transported are the same uncleaned containers previously used to transport meat still with large standing pools of blood droplets on the floor.
When considering the supply chain from farm to fork, the general public and often even food safety professionals typically tend to focus on the risks introduced by food operators while overlooking risks posed by transportation. Food transport is particularly relevant when raw materials (such as milk, liquid chocolate, edible oil, glycose, milk powder, crystal sugar or flour) are transported from their production sites (primary production) to the individual processing steps (primary and secondary production), loose and unpackaged in food transport containers. Refrigerated and tank containers, silo transporters, tank trucks, IBC’s or refrigerated and box vehicles are used for these transports worldwide.
The food transportation business exists under enormous price pressure, where money is scarce. Freight costs are calculated as hard as a hammer. With the low margins achieved in transport, there is hardly any oxygen available for the urgently needed regular cleaning and disinfection of the transport containers and freight spaces.
The gross reality
Refrigerated containers in which fruit and vegetables are transported are the same uncleaned containers previously used to transport meat still with large standing pools of blood droplets on the floor. The same silo vehicles, in which plastic granules are transported, are subsequently used for milk powder transport…the sticker “Food Stuff Only” is removed to transport the plastics and then reapplied for the subsequent milk powder transport. Food safety hygiene falls by the wayside.
Cross-contamination with viruses, prions, moulds, salmonella, chemicals or foreign substances such as wood, metal, glass or plastic granulates are the order of the day. Usually, neither consumers nor industry pros notice any of this. But when a consumer makes a complaint, it quickly becomes really expensive. The damage from such recalls can quickly exceed the 100 million Euro mark up to total bankruptcy of the company.
Risks can occur during the transport of raw materials and foodstuffs can be related to:
1. transport conditions (e.g. during loading and unloading)
2. technical and hygienic condition of transport containers (e.g. dependent on the quality of cleaning and disinfection)
3. documentation of transport containers (e.g. their validation and verification)
4. strength of their food defence program and overall complete traceability of individual process steps
Cleaning of trailers, silos and tank containers
Cleaning of food transport containers is essential to prevent food contamination and cross- contamination in transport of unpackaged raw materials and food in food transport containers. Maintaining high cleaning standards is challenging for logistics/transporters for many reasons including: this procedure is performed outside their jurisdiction, low level of training provided to unskilled or semi-skilled personnel who typically work for these operators, and the complexity of the supply chain lead transport containers to serve different routes and products …. and cleaning, if done, is usually performed without the direct control of the logistic operator.
Proper cleaning takes time and money but if not done it can lead to contamination, recalls and ultimately result in consumers illness or even death.
Typically, containers can be cleaned either manually or with automatic sanitation machinery.
The main methods used for automatic cleaning are High pressure or CIP (cleaning in place). High Pressure cleaning is more common and uses rinsing heads inserted by the manhole openings. The rotating nozzles use water at high pressure and temperature and is a good solution for challenging situations of difficult to remove incrustations. Rotating nozzles take some time to complete a 360 º rotation and the number of rotations needed to fully empty the container of product residues depends on the initial contamination.
Cleaning in place (CIP) is ideal for products easier to clean. It is more water and energy efficient as it uses less water pressure (it can even be partially recirculated) at lower temperatures. To use this method, the container must have cleaning nozzles installed.
CIP systems have challenges and may fail to be effective mostly because of the lack of standardization of the positioning of CIP nozzles compromising the system efficacy. The fact that CIP nozzles are immersed in the product during liquid transport. This can lead to incrustations inside the CIP nozzle.
Regardless these two methods are named automatic they are applicable only to the interior of the transport container. Manhole covers, drain valves, pipes, filters, pumps and accessories can only be cleaned manually.
Either in house or subcontracted food transport containers should be cleaned in cleaning stations and follow a set of basic requirements. In ENFIT document “European Guideline for Food Safety in the Supply Chain” is recommended several aspects to take in consideration when designing cleaning stations. Here are some of them:
• Design the buildings, walls, ceilings, etc. of the cleaning station to prevent contamination, condensation and mould growth and facilitate the cleaning process
• Line cleaning facilities with concrete floors that are impermeable to water and chemicals and ensure their good working condition. Drains should also be set up to cope with the volumes of water and sewage flowing out of transport containers and designed to allow for easy cleaning.
• Construct windows, skylights, openings (e.g. roof hatches) and doors in such a way to prevent pests from entering. Windows and ventilation openings should be secured with insect screens and glass windows that are unbreakable and shatterproof.
• Filter water and steam used in cleaning cycles through a 5 μm filter
• Avoid the use of glass, plastic, brittle and wood materials within the cleaning lanes at all costs. If the use of these materials cannot be prevented, appropriate usage guidelines should be developed, and their use defined and regulated.
• Install lighting in cleaning station work areas that is adequate all work required for the proper cleaning of transport containers, including lighting appropriate for cleaning verification. For this purpose, national requirements for workplace lighting need to be taken into account.
It is important in the future to explain these issues to all responsible persons in production companies about the risks of transport. This includes quality management, purchasing and sales and supply chain management. The training is just as important for the logisticians and transporters, their drivers and for the employees of cleaning stations. The supply chain can only become more secure if everyone involved has this knowledge. Transport must receive special attention in all risk analysis. Only then can the Farm to Fork chain be secure and complete.
This article was written with Hans-Dieter Philipowski
Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.