Various services at L&S Sweeteners enhance product security, safety, purity

Sept. 1, 2003
MANAGEMENT at L&S Sweeteners, Leola, Pennsylvania, doesn't shy away from finding as many ways as possible to serve foodgrade customers. In addition to

MANAGEMENT at L&S Sweeteners, Leola, Pennsylvania, doesn't shy away from finding as many ways as possible to serve foodgrade customers. In addition to liquid bulk tank truck transportation, the company has on-site rail service, warehousing, a liquid and dry bulk transloading facility, custom blending, and a two-bay tank wash.

“If a foodgrade customer has a service idea for us, we take it very seriously,” says Shawn Sensenig, general manager.

And service doesn't stop with customers. The company makes an extra effort at being a good neighbor. It installed an award-winning distillation system that separates sugar from wastewater. The distillation system received special recognition from the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency. The system conserves about 6,000 gallons of water per day.

All of this takes place about six miles east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the carrier, with 35 foodgrade tank trailers, hauls liquid sweeteners for its sister company, Good Food Inc, a family-owned manufacturer of liquid and dry food ingredients.

The company primarily hauls sweetener for shippers in about a 125-mile service area of Leola. However, the company also provides service in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and as far south as North Carolina.

“We go where the shipper wants us to go,” says Sensenig.

At the Leola terminal there are 100 railspots served by Norfolk Southern Corporation, which brings in all product handled at the facility. While L&S Sweeteners hauls liquid and bagged product, the terminal also transloads dry bulk sugar into tank trailers owned by other carriers.

L&S liquefies and can invert dry bulk sugar as well as custom blend sweeteners in truckload quantities on site. Dry bulk sugar is transferred from railcars into a silo with 250,000-pound capacity. From the silo, the sugar is moved with an auger system into liquefying tanks and then loaded into L&S Sweeteners tank trailers.

Another auger system also is used to transfer sugar from railcar to truck in a 30-minute procedure. These sugars can be segregated by product.

All product is transferred in enclosed buildings. A Trackmobile railcar mover is used to shuttle railcars in and out of the enclosed transloading facility, ensuring protection from the weather and other elements that might interfere with foodgrade purity.

To assure measurement accuracy, the liquefying tanks are mounted on load cells for weighing. Batch numbers, weights, temperatures, and all other information are stored by an in-house designed computer program.

In addition to the liquefying tanks, there is separate storage for various types of sweeteners to provide service for last-minute orders.

“A lot of coordination is required to handle these products,” says Sensenig. “We operate three shifts per day just to handle the liquid edibles. Our hours are from Sunday at 10 pm through Friday at 10 pm.”

The majority of customer orders are received via e-mail, but one customer is linked directly into the computer system. “We expect more and more customers will request direct communication in the future,” he says.

Tank wash

Also available for foodgrade customers, as well as L&S Sweeteners' tank trailers, is the tank wash with an in-house-designed cleaning system and Gamajet spinners. The facility is approved by pharmaceutical and major beverage manufacturers. The carrier flushes foodgrade trailers with 180-degree water for 15 minutes and then adds a final rinse with cold water for 10 minutes.

The award-winning wastewater recovery system from CASTion utilizes a distillation process that separates and recovers almost 100 percent of the sugar and water for reuse in various ways. Some water is used again in the tank wash while other liquid and the solids can be mixed with animal feed.

L&S Sweeteners chose the distillation system in an attempt to reduce high-sugar content in the wastewater, which was drawing a surcharge from the county. The carrier's existing tank cleaning tanks, boiler, and recently-purchased cooling tower are used in the process.

Wastewater is preheated in a concentration tank to reduce biological activity and degas soluble carbon dioxide. It is automatically drawn into a process vessel under vacuum and then is further degassed. Preheated and degassed wastewater is pressurized and heated to 140°F and then sprayed into the process vessel.

A portion of the wastewater evaporates, cooling the remainder of the sprayed and slightly concentrated wastewater to 115°F. Flashed vapor is condensed and distillate is extracted. This extracted distillate is further treated to destroy and remove any organic carryover or odor. Final distillate product is pumped to the cooling tower tank and consumed as make-up.

Non-flashed portions are mixed with a small amount of new feed wastewater and recirculated through the process. Recirculated wastewater is automatically discharged to the concentration tank and reprocessed until concentration is reached. It is then discharged to a tank for storage and ultimately sold as animal feedstock enhancement.

Product security

In addition to the company's focus on service, it also is concerned with product security. L&S Sweeteners was tasked with delivering a safe and pure product long before the national security consciousness was raised after the terrorist attacks on the United States. But today even more emphasis is placed on the security effort.

“We are picking up product from the shipper and taking it to the end user,” Sensenig said. “That means that we have to be alert at both ends of the chain — as well as during the transportation. Shippers and the end users also are under new pressures for security and are increasing their demands on the transporters.”

Security begins at the carrier's terminal where closed-circuit cameras are placed at strategic locations to record activity. But the most emphasis is placed on product seals, which have become the center of tamper prevention for all tank trailers. L&S Sweeteners requires seals placed at any vessel opening. In addition, hoses are stowed in tubes on the trailer — and the tubes are locked and sealed.

Most of the responsibility for security falls heavily on the company's approximately 20 drivers and about 10 owner-operators, who must contend with threatening events or mishaps that might occur while the load is under their control.

L&S Sweeteners trains drivers to handle seals with an emphasis on the importance of documentation. One incorrect notation in a record, or a broken seal, results in the load being compromised. Drivers are instructed to report often to dispatchers — and not to leave vehicles unattended. The company supplies drivers with Nextel phones that have two-way radio capability so they have instant contact with dispatchers or others involved in shipments.

If drivers are stopped for roadside inspections in which a seal is broken in the inspection process, a new seal must be attached and documented at the site. The inspector must sign a form indicating the procedure has been accomplished. Drivers are required to contact dispatchers to make them aware of the situation.

To address product purity concerns, drivers must wear shirts with no buttons and no pens in pockets — and while handling product must wear nets on hair and beards.

Vehicle maintenance

Another aspect of product safety and security involves tank trailer maintenance to insure the vehicles are in good working order. A five-bay shop with three mechanics provides repairs and preventive maintenance.

The fleet is composed mostly of Stainless Tank & Equipment, Brenner, and Polar sanitary none-code 6,000-gallon tank trailers. A rear and belly drop cabinet, which also is locked and sealed during transportation, houses Dixon valves and Viking and Ibex foodgrade pumps.

The carrier uses Mack tractors purchased from Hollinger Mack Inc in Lancaster. Newest tractors have Mack 460-horsepower engines and Fuller 10-speed transmissions. They are equipped with Eaton axles, MeritorWABCO antilock braking, Mack suspensions, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Truck-Lite lighting and wiring.

Company history

Today's trucks and tank trailers are just part of the line of vehicles involved in the history of the carrier. Its parent, Zook, was founded by Simon Zook in 1934 when he hauled a hammer mill from farm-to-farm in order to mix molasses with feed for animals. He also used the hammer mill to grind corn at harvest time.

Keeping an eye on what farms would need his services during the harvest was difficult from the ground, because most of the customers were Amish whose religion forbid them to have telephones. So Zook learned to fly an airplane and took to the air for surveillance. When he saw a farm beginning the harvest, he returned to the ground, collected the hammer mill, and set out for that farm.

With the past setting a firm foundation, L&S Sweeteners is ready for the future. Sensenig says the company will continue to provide safety and security for the foodgrade products under its care. At the same time, he anticipates the company will continue to grow as the demand for products increases.

He sees the natural food market as a growing niche. “People are definitely demanding more healthy foods,” he says.

With a transloading facility in place, a pristine tank wash in operation, and an award-winning wastewater system installed, the company is well-situated for more foodgrade business to come its way.

About the Author

Mary Davis