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From: The eUpdate, 1.14.2014
Preventing Contamination at the Dock
Loading dock equipment can protect food products in cold and dry storage facilities
by Michael Brittingham
Losses from food that becomes contaminated during processing and handling can be astronomical, costing companies thousands and even millions of dollars for a single incident. These can include inventory that must be recalled, the cost of food disposal, the cost of administering the recall, and the cost of crisis-mode public relations efforts to mop up after the incident.
Loading dock equipment, originally meant to increase operational efficiency and to protect the safety of dockworkers, is now being enlisted to protect food products in cold and dry storage facilities as well as during production and transportation. Here are some warehouse solutions that can help a DC or processing facility strengthen their line of defense again contamination.
Make sure the doorway is sealed. Just because the door looks closed doesn’t always mean it is sealed. Forklift impacts are brutal on everything on and around the dock, especially dock doors, and can leave gaps along the sides of the doors that can let in pests and contaminants, and cold air out.
There is more attention being paid today to the dock door’s ability to seal the openings in food-based operations. Specialty and impactable dock doors are designed to provide a superior seal on the loading dock. These doors are equipped with thick foam panels and compression side and bottom seals, providing high-quality thermal protection to preserve a facility’s temperature and keep the elements and debris out.
Some models even include a full-height, 12 gauge galvanized steel track, an impactable track and thick insulated foam core panels with a damage-resistant polymer interior facing to provide the ideal addition to guard against forklift impacts and to help maintain a clean, safe facility.
These doors have an impactable design that allows them to stand up to the abuse they experience on the dock. They use heavy-duty, retractable plungers versus guide rollers and ride in a v-grooved track. When a fork lift or other object collides with the doors, the impact causes the plungers to retract, allowing the door to release from the opening and prevent panel damage. After the door is knocked out from the track, a light pull on the door handles resets the door, putting it back in operation quickly without damage.
Since door and track damage are some of the leading causes of broken seals and gaps on the doors, many companies elect to install an impactable track. A first line of defense against impacts on the door tracks, it runs from 3 feet, where most track impacts and damage occurs, up to the entire height of the door opening. Made of solid, ultra high molecular weight plastic, the tracks deflect forklifts and other material handling vehicles without sustaining any damage or exposing the facility to outdoor elements, dirt, debris, and pathogen carrying pests.
Is the dock floor an avenue for airflow and debris? Dock levelers are necessary to allow forklifts to safely access trailers and create the level interface between the warehouse and the trailer. Dock levelers are typically mounted in a concrete pit which creates small gaps between the edge and rear of the leveler and the pit wall which exposes the facility to air loss and the potential for contamination.
To alleviate any potential energy loss and the risk of spoilage through the gaps along the pit walls, facilities now have the option to install a perimeter weather seal on their dock levelers. The intention of adding this seal is to provide a superior seal along the sides and rear of the dock leveler to help prevent energy loss from air flow and contamination. The design closes off the gaps between the dock leveler and concrete pit that are often missed by traditional weather seals. As another feature, the weather seal fabric is not exposed to the face of the loading dock wall which keeps it out of harm’s way promoting long term durability.
A sealed facility should start outside the dock. When the dock door is fully open, the facility is potentially exposed to the outside and the elements. Dock seals and shelters are critical to containing cold air and a tight seal on the dock areas.
Dock seals have fabric-covered foam pads that compress when the trailer backs into them, providing a tight seal around the sides of the trailer and sealing off the gaps between the trailer’s door hinges. This prevents air infiltration and potentially moisture from reaching products during loading and unloading that can cause mold to grow. Dock shelters consist of fabric attached to side and head frames to create a canopy around the full perimeter of the trailer and allow unimpeded access to the interior of the trailer.
Keep the trailer snug against the dock. Though largely regarded as a safety device, vehicle restraints can also play an important role in helping seal off the dock doorway during the transportation of consumer food.
To make sure the trailer remains securely and safely against a foam dock seal or tight against a shelter, a vehicle restraint firmly grips the rear impact guard of a trailer. Provided primarily for the safety of the forklift drivers working the loading dock, the restraint secures the trailer more effectively than rubber wheel chocks, preventing trailer creep and premature trailer departure but still releases cleanly when the truck is ready to hit the road on their way to grocery stores, restaurants, and markets.
Keep the dock functions in a row. Most food handling DCs are marvels of technological advances when it comes to conveyors, WMS, forklifts, and picking systems. The loading dock and all of its equipment plays an energy savings and contamination blocking role, but if the equipment is not deployed correctly, the dock can be left exposed to the outside.
Master control panels tie all of the functions at the dock together in a pre-specified order. Programming ensures that the dock door is not opened until the truck trailer is parked at the dock and secured by the restraint. The restraint will not release the trailer until the door is fully closed. These controls simplify operation to ensure proper sequence and that the perimeter is sealed and secured.
A food DC or production facility employing the proper dock equipment can keep goods flowing through the supply chain while preventing cold air from exiting the building and debris, dirt, and pathogen carrying pests from entering the building causing a potential for contamination.
Brittingham is the manager of marketing communications for Serco Entrematic. Reach him at 972-323-6730.