Sugar hauling gets special attention from the Vernon Transportation fleet

Sept. 1, 2004
WHEN someone drinks a refreshing, cool soda, cargo security is probably the furthest thing from his or her mind. However, security has become a key consideration

WHEN someone drinks a refreshing, cool soda, cargo security is probably the furthest thing from his or her mind. However, security has become a key consideration for those involved in transporting edibles, including the ingredients used in soft drinks.

Vernon Transportation is one of the foodgrade trucking specialists that helps keep soft drinks flowing to consumers. Headquartered in Stockton, California, the tank truck carrier works closely with customers to ensure the safest, most secure transport conditions for sweetener shipments.

Vernon Transportation specializes in hauling liquid and granulated bulk sugar products. President John Aguilar and Vice President and General Manager Gregg Wilson run a fleet of 50 tractor-trailer tanker rigs with 65 employees.

The tank fleet is one of only five trucking companies in California that specializes in sugar hauling. In fact, sugar was the focus from the time the company started operations in 1985 with a single tanker rig driven by Aguilar.

Vernon Transportation provides same-day service to anywhere in California and has operating authority to run in all states west of the Mississippi River. One special customer selected Vernon Transportation for shipments to southern Minnesota because the carrier was able to meet strict hauling requirements.

Innovative strength

One of the carrier's strengths is its ability to innovate. Every tanker transport vehicle must keep products contaminant-free and breathe. A suck-in can result if a tanker is not allowed to breathe.

Another major problem has to do with the safe loading of the food products and the sampling upon delivery. These actions necessitate opening the domelid and exposing the food product to outside contaminants.

Vernon Transportation has solved these problems with a proprietary filter and vent system design that allows the cargo tank to breathe and also allows loading and testing of the product, while keeping out pollutants. Working with several equipment vendors, the carrier designed a filter canister, stainless steel double mesh screen, and Runo vent system that is durable and stands up to the high intense heat required to clean and sanitize food tankers. This has been especially helpful on tankers hauling sticky sugar where the residue clogs the filters and they have to be cleaned repetitively.

Vernon Transportation's proprietary filter system is sanitized, along with the tanker, during washout after every single trip. A cap helps prevent cargo from sloshing up and out of the vent system.

One major food manufacturer liked the system so much that it went to the rest of its carriers and advised them that they needed to begin providing the same level of security and safety on their units. In addition, the cap system enables Vernon Transportation to maintain strict temperature control and purity of products. As a result, Vernon Transportation was able to qualify with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as a food storage facility so it can preload and stage full tankers at its terminals.

Security concerns

Since September 11, 2001, food haulers have worked to make their customers and their operations even safer and more secure. In conjunction with associations and government agencies, many businesses have implemented new procedures and security programs, and revised the way they manage their operations in order to protect food shipments.

Every day there are 21 million transport loads of food moving across the United States. California alone is the largest food producer in the United States with 89,000 farms, 10,000 food processors, and 200,000 retail food facilities.

Food shipments are governed by a variety of regulations. Most current food safety regulations can be traced back to 1990 when Congress passed the Sanitary Food Transportation Act (SFTA) of 1990 (49 USC 5701). This was followed by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act the same year and then the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act (NEXTEA) in 1997, a specific regulation to ensure the safe transportation and storage of food by all modes of transportation. Add to this the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetics Act, the Sanitary Food Transportation Act, and the Federal Anti-tampering Act. Oversight of these programs is the responsibility of The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

After September 11, 2001, the federal government imposed additional regulatory burdens, including The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 encompassing all aspects of protecting the food supply chain from grower to consumer, both domestically, transported across borders and imported from overseas.

The food transportation industry has been a main focus of many of the new government regulations regarding food safety and integrity. The General Accounting Office (GAO) says there are three main food transport safety issues: temperature control, cross-contamination, and sabotage and tampering.

Over the last several years, the focus of protecting the food supply chain against deliberate contamination has shifted. This has been influenced by the fact that 80% of all cargo losses are due to tampering and thefts by individuals with authorized access to a shipment.

Defensive line

Not surprisingly, food haulers, such as Vernon Transportation, are seen as a first line of defense. The carrier has worked closely with sweetener manufacturers, tank trailer builders, and seal supplier TydenBrammall to refine its services and offer well-thought-out transport security solutions to the sweetener industry.

The process of guaranteeing product safety and security starts at the wash rack. After every shipment, tank trailers are cleaned at the carrier's own wash rack with a minimum 180 degree Fahrenheit water.

The foodgrade wash rack went into operation in 1994 at the headquarters terminal in Stockton. It is dedicated to sugar trailers and is Kosher certified. Only hot water is used for cleaning in accordance with beverage industry requirements.

To facilitate cleaning, tank trailers are specified with an internal two-inch clean-in-place (CIP) system with no moving parts. Three spray bulbs direct wash water to every nook and cranny of the tank.

Once clean, the tank is sealed before being staged in the lot to await its next trip. When the tanker is needed for the next shipment, it is unsealed, loaded, and resealed. Upon delivery it is unsealed, unloaded, and sealed again. The process starts all over when the trailer is returned to the wash rack and staging yard in Stockton.

Each tanker in the Vernon Transportation fleet of 50 units can transport up to three loads on an average day. Each of the different stages in the washing, loading, and delivery process uses a different color seal. This not only facilitates easier tracking and control, but also quickly and easily identifies the status of each tanker. Vernon Transportation verifies, and then certifies, that each tanker has been sanitized and sealed requiring that all of the serial numbers from each security seal be logged on the wash ticket and entered on the bill of lading.

One benefit of the recent efforts to enhance the security focus has been the ability of the tank truck carrier to reduce the number of seals needed on new tank trailers. They have gone from 30 down to 13 seals without compromising safety and security.

Steps taken to reduce the number of sealing points include changing the hose tube layout. Vernon Transportation puts all three hose tubes on its trailers on the curbside forward of the rear pump box. A single door covers all of the tubes and is secured with a single seal.

The cargo security seal that Vernon Transportation relies on is the 1/16-inch E-Z Loc Seal manufactured by TydenBrammall. Carrier management works closely with Jack Mattson, TydenBrammall's Regional Sales Manager, on security seal requirements and the overall tracking program.

Vernon Transportation uses the TydenBrammall EZ-Loc Seal for its ease of application, individual serialization, and bar coding capabilities. The E-Z Loc Seal is made with high-tensile strength, galvanized, non-preformed (NPC) aircraft cable, and a corrosion-resistant, zinc casting serialized lock body. The seal is available in varying lengths and lock body colors to meet the needs of their operation.

The NPC cable is standard on all TydenBrammall cargo security cable seals and was actually developed in conjunction with one of the major food manufacturers. Vernon Transportation finds that the presence of NPC cable immediately helps detect if any tampering has taken place with the security seal. NPC cable frays wildly when cut, thereby preventing re-use of the seal by prohibiting the re-insertion of the cut cable back into the lock body.

Verification number

The easy-to-read, ink-jet serial number on the EZ-Loc Seal allows verification of the serial number on every security seal. In the past, when Vernon Transportation used a different type seal with the serial number cold stamped on the metal lock body, they would experience problems when the seal was exposed to harsh weather, extreme road conditions, or other types of abuse.

The next phase in Aguilar's plans is to implement a bar coding system for automatically reading, identifying and logging the seals as they move through the system. TydenBrammall is working on the specific bar coding issues that must be addressed for Vernon Transportation to have an accurate and reliable security program.

Also, TydenBrammall's Custom Tracking Program ensures the security seal's integrity and identification from manufacturing through delivery at Vernon Transportation. Each and every seal is inventoried upon receipt and then stored in a locked box. The wash rack employees, who must complete safety procedure training when hired, control dissemination of the security seals and log every number on the wash ticket, the bill of lading, and in the computer.

It's a security program that leaves nothing to chance in the effort to ensure safe transport of sweeteners.