In the past 17 days, Franklin County Health Department staff have inspected 11 incidents involving tractor-trailer food shipments on or near Interstate 44 in the Sullivan area.
Of the incidents, eight were crashes and three were fires leading to the majority of the loads first being embargoed by the county and eventually taken to the landfill and destroyed.
Although not confirmed by the police, Public Health Supervisor Tony Buel said that a load of food from Korea and Vietnam was looted as the trailer lay on its side on the shoulder of the interstate for up to four days earlier this month.
Buel estimates he and others have spent about 120 man-hours inspecting the affected food shipments during the past 2 1/2 weeks.
“We have to inspect the products, supervise the off-loading and then follow them to the landfill to make sure everything is destroyed,” Buel explained. “The companies are mostly compliant and we’ve done the transfers on the side of the highway, but usually go to a tow yard. It’s pretty cut and dry.”
On average the department handles about 15 crashes in a year, but has done 11 so far in 2019.
“It’s not normal for us to work this many crashes,” Buel said. “In the past 15 years I had only worked three food shipment fires, now, I’ve worked three in 11 days.”
On Sunday, Feb. 10, an icy patch on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 44 near Sullivan was responsible for eight food shipment crashes resulting in thousands of pounds of produce being destroyed and dollars lost.
“Most of those loads originated in California and were headed to Chicago and New York,” Buel said. “One load originated in Springfield and the one that was stolen from was all food coming from Korea and Vietnam.”
Buel said the load of exotic fruits and vegetables was en route from Whittier, Calif., to Lincolnshire, Ill.
The list of contents of the tractor-trailers that day read much like the ingredients of a house salad.
• Semi carrying celery rolled over and the entire load was embargoed and taken to a landfill for witnessed destruction.
• Semi carrying bulk croutons ready for final packaging were partially spilled onto roadway near St. Clair and sent to landfill.
• Semi full of fruits and vegetables, including enoki mushrooms and singo pears, laid on its side with a hole in trailer that was allegedly used for looting.
• Semi carrying 19,200 heads of Green Giant iceberg lettuce embargoed and destroyed at landfill.
• Semi carrying meat and vegetables, including oysters, snow peas, mushrooms, celery and other assorted vegetables, taken to landfill.
Buel said three additional Feb. 10 crashes only involved the tractors and the trailers and contents were left mostly unharmed and released after inspection.
One of those shipments was a complete load of 24,480 pounds of Golden Grahams cereal ready for the shelf.
Buel said of the overall shipment of more than 15,000 boxes of cereal, only 480 had to be destroyed.
A trailer load of strawberry puree for drinks also was spared from any destruction during a crash on Feb. 10, and like the cereal shipment, the trailer was not affected by the crash that damaged the tractor.
Buel said the entire load was able to be kept and was released by the health department back to the manufacturer, which arranged for a new tractor to proceed.
A third food shipment that escaped the Feb. 10 ice storm unscathed was a full load of oranges. Buel explained in that crash the trailer remained upright, the load was inspected and the oranges were released on Feb. 11.
In addition to the slip-sliding on the interstate, the health department has been called to three fires involving tractor-trailers hauling food shipments in recent weeks as well, again all in the Sullivan area.
The largest was the complete destruction by fire on Feb. 19 of two rigs parked next to each other at the Flying J truck stop.
Buel explained the fire began in a tractor and spread to its trailer containing a shipment of breaded frozen okra with an estimated value of $20,000.
The fire then spread to another truck carrying 24,517 pounds of Kraft individual servings of macaroni and cheese.
Both tractors and trailers were complete losses.
Most recently, the health department investigated a third semi fire on the interstate involving 41,580 pounds of flour packages in individual 10-pound bags for Costco.
Buel said the shipment caught fire as it was traveling down the interstate.