Surveillance Video Helps Improve Food Safety at Coastal Sunbelt Produce

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.

“We ship about 17,000 cases each night, so if we make a mistake on one box it costs us to correct that mistake - and that can add up. Cutting down on these mistakes saves us money.”

The USDA arbitrates issues with suppliers and each inspection costs about $120 for the report sent to a supplier. They measure for decay and discoloration in delivered produce to indicate the quality of the delivery.

“If we have any issues, we can pull the digital pictures of the product when it comes in off the trucks and send these to the suppliers via e-mail. It’s the nature of the produce business that the goods are perishable, and once they’re harvested, someone’s going to get them in their delivery, but not us! We only get the freshest because we’ve got the best controls over it,” smiles Phil Muth.

Phil Muth and Dr. Tyrangiel agree that the IP video surveillance technology offers tremendous opportunities for continued improvements in efficiency and productivity. Dr. Tyrangiel sums up the advantages of using IP video surveillance as a multi-faceted management improvement tool: “It’s really smart business intelligence.”

The Milestone XProtect Enterprise software was installed by Computerized Management Systems Inc. to operate 54 sophisticated network cameras from Axis and Sony. The Sony Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) cameras patrolling the large parking lots, fueling station area and shipping/receiving bays are running through a Cisco wireless connection, using a Cisco antenna that picks up the camera signals and feeds it to the main video server. The Axis cameras indoor monitor the administration, warehousing, Clean Room processing, production, shipping, and other areas.

Coastal Sunbelt Produce is the largest East Coast supplier of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables like ready-to-eat salads, pre-cut carrots, celery sticks, and fruit salads. The company supplies food service customers such as chain supermarkets, restaurants and hotels with fresh produce every day of the year. Customers include Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesdays, Baja Fresh Mex, Bertucci’s, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Department of Defense, Domino’s Pizza, Giant Foods, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, and Marriott Hotels. The Coastal Sunbelt Produce facility covers 7 acres: a 165,000 square foot distribution center with 28 shipping and receiving bays, 80,000 square feet of refrigerated storage, and a 25,000 square foot refrigerated area for processing. They employ 300 people and maintain a fleet of 60 company trucks.

Established in 1982, CMS is a full service firm with expertise in networking, remote communications, wireless solutions, telephony, video IP surveillance, document management, and network security. They are a member of the VentureTech Network, a national organization of independent computer solutions integrators that focus on providing high-quality technology products and services to growing businesses.

Milestone Systems develops intelligent IP software for networked video surveillance that is leading in the industry. The XProtect products are designed with open architecture, providing the flexibility to support the widest choice from of video cameras and computer servers connected to a LAN, WAN or the Internet. They also provide API integration with other systems. Milestone solutions are operating on 87,000 cameras globally, in a wide scope of industries from retail and leisure to finance, education, production, transportation and government. Milestone works with a qualified channel of 150 partners in over 50 countries and is online at