Success in the perishable produce business depends upon quality. Coastal Sunbelt Produce in Savage, MD, is a leader in this industry. The largest East Coast supplier of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, Coastal Sunbelt supplies food service customers with fresh produce every day of the year. The company’s customers include Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s, Giant Foods, the Department of Defense, Marriott and Hyatt. A new IP video surveillance system at Coastal Sunbelt’s 165,000-square-foot distribution center and warehouse is helping the supplier increase quality control, protect against internal theft and lower costs.
More than $100,000 in Internal Theft
Coastal Sunbelt initially purchased the new surveillance system to combat internal theft in response to a costly incident of employee fraud.
“We had a manager stealing from us, coming in after hours over the period of a year and a half,” said Phil Muth, president of Coastal Sunbelt Produce. “We could see his cell phone was being used to work with a buyer of our products to sell some of our goods right out of the warehouse, about $1,500 worth of product a week. We’re selling $1,200,000 worth weekly altogether, so it’s difficult for us to monitor exact inventory levels when it’s perishable product and you naturally lose some anyway. But with these smaller amounts going out illegally over such a long time, it added up to more than $100,000!”
The waste disposal area is a classic location to monitor for internal theft. People put goods into one of the cans, roll it out to the dumpster behind the building, then drive their car around to pick it up there after hours.
Muth worked with detectives in the local police department to set up a stake-out. Cell phone records alone were not enough evidence: They had to have video and establish the long-term trend in the employee’s activities. “We had old videotapes in black and white that weren’t good and only gave us two weeks of footage at a time,” said Muth. The new surveillance system would solve this problem.
Computerized Management Systems Inc. installed Milestone XProtect Enterprise software to operate 54 sophisticated Axis and Sony cameras, which now monitor the facilities’ parking lots, fueling station, shipping/receiving bays, and indoor facilities such as administration, clean room processing and production.
“After we installed the software, I started looking at other ways to apply it to our business. Food safety came up as a big one, but the one I see developing will be the homeland security regulations,” said Muth.
Surveillance Stops Adulteration
The homeland security angle wasn’t something Muth considered when the company purchased the system, but it’s a welcome surprise. Coastal Sunbelt already has access control procedures in place, but the video system will enhance these. “In addition to the visitor passes that people use to come into the building, we utilize the IP surveillance system to monitor access to the building. This access is integrated, which gives us better control. But we’re developing other ways to use the surveillance as regulations come down from the FDA.
“During one of their many visits to our facility they asked if we are in the process of developing a homeland security approach to guard against any adulterations in transport, receiving or storage. With our IP video surveillance system from Milestone, we know we have a tool to help us manage these.”
Improving GMP and Lowering Inspection Costs
Coastal Sunbelt Produce has shown leadership in the industry by taking the processing out of the back rooms of the grocery stores and doing it in their plant in a more sanitary and controlled way. “We established an HACCP (hazardous area critical control points) plan originally developed for the food for astronauts. It makes a science out of analyzing each area where food could be contaminated by a chemical, microbiological or physical contaminate, analyzing the food’s flow through the processing system and addressing the risks of that,” Muth said.