Not Just for Breakfast

Not Just for Breakfast

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Two major Florida-based orange juice shippers fired a tank truck carrier after the trucker admitted hauling untreated wastewater in the same trucks used to haul juice.

Even though the practice is legal and the 15 tank trucks were completely sanitized before being put to food use, the resulting publicity shut down the Para Marine unit of Indian River Transport, Winter Haven, Fla., because of "perception" concerns, a spokesman said.

"We''re sensitive to the perceptions related to this and that''s certainly a factor," said Keith Rupp, a spokesman for Indian River Transport, the parent of Para Marine, which denies any wrongdoing in the incident.

"This was never a story about health issues - it''s an issue of perception," Rupp said. "No regulations were violated. There were no complaints from customers about tainted products."

The incident highlights what truckers believe are the confusing state and federal regulations covering transport of foodstuffs. Federal regulators once wanted food cooking oil regulated as a hazardous material. They backed off that stance after tons of negative publicity.

But the mixing of foodstuffs and other material remains a hot-button issue. Under current guidelines, the stainless steel tankers are supposed to be sanitized at special sites, a procedure that costs carrier or owner-operators hundreds of dollars for each cleaning.

In the Florida case, tank trucks were used in 2002 to move untreated phosphate wastewater from a defunct phosphate plant in Palmetto, Fla. The state of Florida contracted with CF Industries to clean up polluted ponds. CF Industries (unrelated to the former Consolidated Freightways Corp.) used tankers from Para Marine, which six months later hauled juice from Minute Maid Co. and Tropicana Products, the two largest juice makers in the country.

Officials for the Food and Drug Administration and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service privately have told Indian River officials they don''t believe any rules were broken by the carrier, says Rupp. A report is expected by the end of the year. "We''re hoping that will vindicate the company," Rupp said.

No Indian River Transport vehicles were used. And although there are no indications the carrier did anything illegal, Tropicana Products and Minute Maid Co. ceased using Indian River Transport, a venerable Florida trucker founded in 1974.

Indian River Transport describes itself as one of the largest food grade tank truck carriers in the country. Along with sister company Para Marine, Indian River Transport is solely owned and operated by the John Harned family of Winter Haven, Fla. The long-haul carrier operates in 48 states and Canada and hauls juices, wine and dairy products with terminals in Tulare, Calif., Flemington, N.J., and Mauston, Wis., in addition to Winter Haven.

Because of local publicity, the company is dropping the Para Marine brand entirely and Para Marine will be shut down, Rupp said. Its business will be shifted to Indian River Transport.

Para Marine put those 15 tankers out of service and they will be sold for nonfood purposes. Para Marine has about 100 trucks. Indian River has 450 tankers and does $60 million a year in business, Rupp said.

To Rupp, this was a case of good deed gone bad. Indian River has never hauled any nonfood products but Rupp said one reason Para Marine took the project was that the state was managing this cleanup. "We thought we were being good corporate citizens," Rupp said.

Kristine Nickel, a spokeswoman for Tropicana Products, said Indian River represents a "very small" percentage of Tropicana''s total shipments.

Tropicana moves approximately 30,000 truck tanker loads a year, Nickel said, and about 10 full train units a week out of Florida on CSX Railroad as the only dedicated rail food shipper. "The good news is, we have no product quality issue," Nickel said.

Nevertheless, she said, "We have suspended our relationship with Indian River because going from nonfood to food use is not in our specs."

Told that Para Marine had not broken any regulations, Nickel said: "It doesn''t make any difference to us. It''s just not part of our relationships."

It''s no wonder then that the trucker is taking aggressive action to ensure these "perception problems" never reoccur.

"Within the corporate decision-making process, decisions about what sort of projects to take undergo another level of scrutiny," Rupp said.

Indian River Transport also is pursuing ISO 9001 certification. That''s expected to be done by year''s end.