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Food fleets boost security

IN THE WAKE of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, it became apparent that food shipments destined for US consumers were another potential target. A year later, on the anniversary of those attacks, food shipment security remains a key concern.

Modern Bulk Transporter examines the latest developments in food transport security in a September special report (see page 22). As the report points out, food transport security was important long before the terrorist attacks.

Still, shippers and transporters have tightened and enhanced the security procedures already in place. A shipper points out in the special report that one of the lessons of September 11 is that we cannot take for granted the security of our food supply.

Steps being taken at the shipper level include more security personnel at plants, storage tank areas, and distribution centers. More closed circuit television cameras have been installed, and they are being monitored around the clock. Facility access is much more restricted today.

Carriers have redoubled efforts to prevent unauthorized access to tank trailers containing edibles. Security has become a bigger part of driver training for fleets, and many drivers have been issued photo identification cards. Fleets are adding tank hardware designed for greater measures of security.

Cabinets, hose tubes, manways, and other access points are being sealed with locks or seals of various types. Shippers and carriers together are looking at a wider range of seals. Products under consideration include electronic and computerized seal systems for shipments that are deemed particularly vulnerable to tampering. Seal chain of custody is a key concern today.

Security has become a much greater concern at rail transloading locations across the United States. Rail transloading has become a key part of the distribution network for many bulk edibles, such as flour and sweeteners. However, these facilities can be a major point of weakness in transport security, partly because many locations were unattended in the past and access was not closely monitored.

Many transloading facility operators have moved aggressively to close off the gaps in security. Facilities have been fenced and more lighting installed. Security cameras are in place now. Guards and other staff monitor access and are part of the seal chain of custody process.

In short, significant progress has been made over the past year to enhance the security of food shipments. The system probably isn't perfect, and the federal government is preparing more stringent food security regulations. These are due out around December.

At the same time, no US food shipments have been targeted up to this point. As an official at the Transportation Security Administration pointed out at a meeting in June: “We must achieve a delicate balance between keeping the economy humming and protecting ourselves against the very real threats facing our nation.”

Food transport security has a higher profile today, but shippers and consignees are just as concerned about equipment cleanliness and on-time deliveries. No amount of security will compensate for a failure to tend to the basics in this industry.

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