The dairy industry is a very demanding application with its 24-hour-a-day operation, regardless of weather conditions, heavy loads and stop-and-go deliveries. Add to that the fact that the equipment needed to haul dairy products — insulated reefer boxes, lift gates, heavy-duty chassis — is expensive.
Product integrity is of utmost importance when hauling dairy products because they are very sensitive to temperature changes. In the dairy industry, the amount of time product spends above 33 degrees Fahrenheit is directly proportional to the shelf life of the product in days.
To ensure product integrity has been maintained, retailers use temperature probes to validate the temperature of the product upon delivery. Larger retailers will probe products while they are still in the trailer and will refuse deliveries if product temperatures are outside set parameters.
Maintenance is critical
The way a truck is spec’d and maintained contributes to its ability to deliver product that meets all the required parameters. While maintenance is important for all trucking applications and duty cycles, it is absolutely vital when hauling dairy products.
Transervice is well versed on key items that contribute to successfully maintaining proper temperature when hauling dairy products. While the list of maintenance items is long, here are some key areas that deserve special attention during maintenance inspections of vehicles used to haul dairy products.
- Curtains: Curtains help maintain the temperature of the product while the door is open during deliveries. Curtains take a beating in day-to-day operation, and it is important to focus additional attention on them during preventive maintenance service. The integrity and appearance of the curtains must be maintained to ensure they are in perfect working order at all times.
- Air chutes in the trailer ceiling: Reefer units are mounted on the front of the trailer, and air chutes are needed to force air to the back of the trailer. This is the first area of the trailer affected by temperature changes when the rear door — the largest opening — is opened for deliveries. Air chutes can be damaged by forklifts and product that is stacked high. Air chutes need to be inspected for damage frequently and repaired or replaced as needed.
- Temperature settings: This applies to both reefer units and cold plates. Many dairy operations have standard operating procedures that require a reefer trailer or box truck that has been parked overnight or longer be run for one hour before it is loaded in order for it to be at the correct temperature for dairy products. If this standard operating procedure (SOP) is not followed consistently, the end result is temperature-sensitive product loaded into a hot trailer. To offset this, operators may manually lower the temperature settings on the reefer or cold plate in an attempt to cool the trailer or box more quickly. This not only overworks the reefer unit, but also sets the dairy up for future issues because the temperature settings are generally not restored to their normal range. During vehicle inspections, Transervice has found temperatures set as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit, which results in complaints of frozen milk upon delivery. It is important to keep a watchful eye on the temperature setting every time you see the unit and to restore them to their normal operating range when necessary. Remind drivers of the SOP of pre-cooling the unit prior to loading it with products.
- Additional items: In addition to the above “big” items that need attention, there are other areas of the vehicle that need some TLC. Since dairy products tend to be heavy, springs can be overworked especially if the vehicle is overloaded. Springs need to be inspected to make sure they have not failed. Local city deliveries can result in tire sidewall damage, so tires need to be inspected regularly. Dairy trucks also can spend a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic, which can cause carbon buildup that leads to premature engine failure. When making deliveries, liftgates are operated by batteries in order not to idle the vehicle’s engine. Deep-cycle batteries are best for this application, but regardless of battery type, they need to be tested regularly to make sure they have the power needed to operate the lift gates.
While uptime is considered critical for all types of trucking applications, when hauling dairy products, it is imperative that the vehicle be in top operating condition at all times to maintain the integrity of the product. The best way to do this is to spec the vehicle properly for the application and to institute a comprehensive maintenance program that includes quality control checks. Partnering with a professional that understands the nuances and complexities of the dairy industry will maximize vehicle uptime and ensure product gets delivered when it needs to at the proper temperature.