Health Department Response to Accidents and Impoundment of Vehicles Transporting Food Products
Vehicle accidents and impoundment involving transportation of commercial food supplies have increased significantly in Indiana. In response to several recent incidents, a meeting was held at the Indiana State Department of Health with representatives from the Indiana State Police, Motor Carrier Division, United States Department of Agriculture, Indiana State Board of Animal Health and ISDH Food Protection Program to discuss protocol when these situations occur.
Federal, state and local regulatory agencies play an important role in emergency situations involving commercial food supplies. In many cases, decisions must be made at the accident site by regulatory officials to determine if food products are to be destroyed, held for further evaluation, or be returned to the manufacturer.
Truck wrecks involving commercial food supplies may occur during or after normal health department working hours. Accidents of this nature usually require an on-site inspection to evaluate the condition of the food products. In wrecks, the physical impact of the collision usually causes the most damage. Toxic items such as janitorial supplies or vehicle fuel tanks may rupture adding more contamination to the food and food packaging. Exposure to the weather may adversely affect the products. Removal of the wreckage may also cause further physical damage and contamination. The possibility of food or food ingredient runoff contaminating nearby streams or waterways is often overlooked, and for these reasons it is imperative that a trained regulatory official be present to evaluate the situation.
The types of food involved, and the location of the accident, are important factors in determining which agency(s) become involved. You may have already experienced a similar scenario:
(Your Home) -- It’s 2:00 a.m., ring-ring-ring "Hello" – "Hello my name is Trooper Jim Smith, with the Indiana State Police, I am calling the health department to report an accident involving a semi-truck loaded with meat. The cargo is raw boxed beef and is overturned on State Road 18 southbound off ramp on I-65, in Benton County. The trailer has been ripped open and approximately half the trailer’s contents are spilled out on the ramp and we need to know what to do with the meat immediately!"
In many cases, the health department may determine at the site, that the food product(s) can be off-loaded to another vehicle and routed to an appropriate destination. In this case, the food involved in the accident was an interstate shipment of beef products. A representative from the local health department, and the Indiana State Board of Animal Health were called to the accident location. The meat products left on the truck were offloaded to another vehicle and taken to a USDA inspected facility for further evaluation. Unsalvageable meat products on the surface of the ramp were hauled to a landfill and destroyed. In this case, the following food safety measures were properly implemented:
- When police reported the accident to the local health department, the health department contacted the ISDH Food Protection’s after hour "Urgent Call" hot line because it involved a shipment of food products. The health department could have also reported the accident directly to the USDA or the Indiana State Board of Animal Health hot line.
- Information regarding the amount and type of foods involved, description of damage, vehicle identification tags, license numbers, information regarding origin and destination of vehicle was collected and reported to the ISDH Food Protection.
- ISDH forwarded the information to USDA and the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, and arrangements were made for the salvageable products to be taken to the nearest USDA inspected plant for further evaluation.
- The local health department accompanied a clean-up truck to a nearby landfill where they witnessed destruction (disposition) of the unsalvageable products.
- A summary of the accident was completed and submitted to the ISDH Food Protection by the local health department in conjunction with the appropriate disposition forms for the destruction of the product(s).
These situations create different problems from truck wrecks. Often the vehicle has equipment failure, or the driver is detained for some reason and the cargo must sit at a weigh station. If the shipment involves potentially hazardous foods, proper product temperature must be maintained at all times. In order to salvage these shipments, arrangements must be made by the firm owning the product to keep the shipment properly refrigerated. The quality and temperature measurement of the food products being held, must be evaluated and verified by the health department prior to being released. Assistance from the health department may be requested in the following areas:
- Finding a secure location (if needed) having the capability of maintaining potentially hazardous food at proper temperatures
- Notifying appropriate agencies
- Assisting with determining damage and/or disposition of food products
- Determining origin, destination or holding point of cargo
- Verifying temperature and quality of the product(s)
- Verifying destruction or disposition of product
- Documenting the investigation appropriately
Accidents and vehicle impoundment involving food products are occurring on a more regular basis, and it’s only a matter of time before your health department is called to assist in an investigation. A preset plan of action in responding to these situations is recommended for all local health departments.
Emergency Telephone Numbers
Indiana State Department of Health (317)233-1325
Indiana State Board of Animal Health (317)227-0300
USDA (317)290-3350 (leave a message)