Contamination has always been a problem within the bulk transportation industry. We can define a contaminant as any object, or substance that renders something impure. In practical terms, it can be described as any substance that is foreign and is not a component of the primary product or material. It can also be an object that is an unintended contact with the primary product or material.
Contaminants can have a negative impact on any type of bulk load, but often have overwhelming consequences when they come into play with food products or supplements intended for human or animal consumption. There are many types of contaminants that can ruin food products that are being transported in bulk. Examples of typical contaminants are fungi, residual heel from previous loads, corrosion, delaminating liners, vermin, and foreign objects such as: tools, phones, lights, pens, etc.
Tank maintenance can play a big role in minimizing potential contamination problems. It is imperative to maintain hygienic conditions in a tank between loads. A tank wash operation is a basic, common sense maintenance that is critical to reducing the risk of contamination. Unfortunately, the reality is the opportunity for contamination can still exist even if a tanker has gone through a tank wash process.
There have been many instances where a fully loaded tanker was contaminated following a proper tank wash procedure:
- In one case, a rail tanker had gone through an internal tank wash process and had not yet been loaded. A bird flew into the open manway at some point following the wash. The bird was not noticed, and the tanker was filled with a liquid consumable product and it was delivered to a customer at a manufacturing plant. The liquid was used as an ingredient for the manufacture of a snack food and was used for a time before the contaminant was discovered. The resultant discovery created a major disruption to the plant manufacturing process, employee downtime, expensive sanitation procedures, wasted bulk product and transportation costs. Liability for this event went well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and damaged the reputation and brand of the company that delivered the contaminated product.
- In another instance, a tank was put through a wash process, but because of a system malfunction, a pocket of the old product remained in the tank. The tank was next filled with a dis-similar product. This led to a cross contamination event that resulted in a mass product recall and many individuals were sickened.
- There was one occurrence where workmen were repairing a tank interior and accidentally left lithium battery powered utility lights in the tank. The tank was washed but the lights remained in the tank, and it was used to transport a food product. Fortunately, the seals held on the lights and there were no significant negative consequences. This may not have been the case if the lithium batteries were exposed to the liquid food product and it found its way into a pet, livestock or consumer food product.
The one preventative measure that can catch these contamination events and stop them from occurring is to perform a cursory visual inspection of the internal tank conditions just before loading product. This can be problematic as tanks are confined spaces and are inherently dangerous to enter. OSHA has mandated safety procedures to help ensure the well-being of anyone that must break the plane of a confined space environment. A proper and safe confined space entry, requires training, manpower, equipment and administrative oversight. This means that a quick visual inspection can add complexity, cost, and an additional safety concern into the process.
Zistos has created a video inspection system that can be inserted into a confined space, such as a tanker, to look for these potential contaminants with no entry required. The tanker inspection system, HDTI-5AR-TIP6-3.5Z, can provide a high-resolution image of conditions inside of the tank, viewable by an individual who remains outside of the confined space-envelope.
The ZistosHD tanker inspection system consists of a telescoping pole with a camera on the base. We insert the pole and camera assembly into the tank via the manway. A swivel assembly on the pole spans the manway opening and allows the camera to be manipulated by the user so it can view any area of the interior. The system generates a wireless HD video signal that can be viewed by the inspector, or others, on a body-worn, hands-free, tablet display. It can also be wirelessly transmitted to an existing network and viewed on a supervisor’s computer. The self-illuminating camera also features a 30X optical zoom that can magnify the smallest of suspicious indicators of potential contaminants.
The inspector can scrutinize the interior to make a final decision, just prior to load, that conditions are acceptable and there are no obvious sources of contamination. Inclusion of this video inspection tool in quality control procedures can go a long way in minimizing the potential for many sources of expensive and devastating contamination events. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!