Surveillance Video Helps Improve Food Safety at Coastal Sunbelt Produce

Joint system from Milestone, Axis and Sony helps company deal with theft, also monitor product handling

The business of dealing in perishable produce creates very high demands on quality, and meeting those demands optimally is the key to success. Coastal Sunbelt Produce is a leader in the industry by adhering to top standards in the food sector, and finding new ways to meet and exceed the regulations set by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This creates more value for customers, and a healthier bottom line for the company.

Coastal Sunbelt’s newest tool for ensuring this approach is a leading-edge network-based Internet Protocol (IP) video surveillance system powered by Milestone Systems XProtect Enterprise software, using network cameras from Axis Communications and Sony. The solution was implemented by Computerized Management Systems Inc. in the summer of 2004.

Coastal Sunbelt Produce is protected from both external and internal theft while employee accountability is heightened. Shipping and receiving activities are monitored for better handling of supplier issues and higher quality of products delivered. Adherence to proper hygiene procedures in food handling is monitored and enforced. This reduces the number (and cost) of required USDA inspections, boosts quality ratings, and maintains the certification that creates more value in Coastal Sunbelt’s product line.

Business case triggered need for IP video surveillance

An internal fraud situation had cost the company over $100,000, which justified installing the new IP video surveillance solution. They had a manager stealing products to sell to another supplier, coming in after hours over a year’s time. Cell phone records alone were not enough evidence: they had to have video and establish the long-term trend in his activities. After installing the software, however, they started looking at other ways to apply it to the business.

”We utilize the surveillance system to monitor access to the building, but we’re developing other uses for it as regulations come down from the FDA to develop a Homeland Security approach to guard against any adulterations in transport, receiving or storage. With our Milestone system, we have a tool to help us manage these,” states Phil Muth, President at Coastal Sunbelt Produce.

When the Health Department does inspections, the number one area where a company gets infractions is from employees not following Good Manufacturing Practices. There is a grading procedure, and the more often the infractions, the more the visits. On level 4 they come once a week; level 1 every quarter – at a cost of $1,000 per inspection every time.

“We moved from level 4 to level 1, from $4,000 a month in costs for that down to $1,000 a quarter,” reports Muth. “We’ve been able to do this with the new video surveillance. The employees know that even if there’s no supervisor on the floor, the video system is on. We can see which employees have bad habits, like handling containers poorly, and show them what they’re doing wrong so they can improve.”

Muth says that customers also come to visit the company’s facility, sending their Quality Assurance people to check regularly on the produce. “We show them the Milestone video system and how it helps us take the quality control to a higher level.”

Resolving errors in shipping and receiving

Logistics is another area where Coastal Sunbelt Produce uses the surveillance system to catch errors and re-train employees, using the images as a coaching tool to follow procedures better.

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