Food shipments again top cargo-theft list

Packaged food and beverage products were 2012’s answer to the question, What do thieves want?

Total U.S. cargo thefts were flat last year, with both 2011 and 2012 falling just short of 950 reported incidents, pausing an upward trend that has seen a 15 percent hike since 2009, according to Robert Fahy, director of corporate security at Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods. Food heists accounted for 19 percent of all U.S. incidents, with more than a quarter of all incidents occurring in California, followed by Florida, Texas and New Jersey.

Fahy, citing figures compiled by FreightWatch, says 2012 was the third consecutive year food products were thieves’ favorite target. The actual number of thefts was in the thousands because self-insured companies like Kraft don’t report incidents.

Deceptive pick-ups at the shipping dock increased sixfold in the last three years and now are the second most common way trailers are stolen. The solution, Fahy suggests, is to empower gate guards and other personnel to demand CDLs from drivers and work with carriers for details about drivers, trailer numbers and other identifying data prior to scheduled pick-ups.

Those procedures would have prevented a March theft of a trailer with 42,000 lbs. of muenster cheese from K&K Cheese in Cashton, Wis. The trailer was supposed to be delivered to Texas, but the driver instead headed East, where he was apprehended at a service area on the New Jersey Turnpike in the New York metro area. Police say the driver intended to sell the cheese to retailers at a price well below its estimated $75,000 value. Fearing damage to its brand, K&K did not seek return of the goods because of possible tampering.

“In a bad economy, food is cash,” Fahy says in explaining the targeting of food shipments. Don Hsieh, director-commercial & industrial markets for Tyco Integrated Security, Boca Raton, Fla., agrees, saying stolen food typically fetches 70 cents on the dollar on black markets, compared to 30 cents or less for electronics, the second most popular target for thieves.

Cigarettes also are targets, but none of the stolen shipments tracked by FreightWatch in 2012 involved tobacco products. Those shipments routinely are shadowed by surveillance vehicles and tracking technology.

Fahy’s remarks came at Thursday’s Food Defense Strategy Exchange, an annual event sponsored by Tyco. The consulting and systems integration firm is focusing on the food industry, partly because of anticipated security requirements in the final rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act and because, with about 160,000 facilities registered with the FDA, it is one of the nation’s largest manufacturing segments. 

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