The food industry could be a target for criminals to traffic drugs, illegal goods and immigrants, according to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and logistics experts.
Food firms have been warned that criminals may be using chilled and frozen trailers to commit the trafficking crimes as they are difficult for the authorities to search.
One expert, who asked not to be named, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Not only are criminals attracted to temperature controlled vehicles because they are an inhospitable environment to search, but some vehicle designs are well designed to hide illegal substances as well.
“Drugs can often be stored in the insulated panel of such vehicles, either in the sides or the doors.”
According to the UKBA, drug traffickers do not just threaten temperature controlled operators. In April 2011, drug smugglers who attempted to import almost 80kg of heroin disguised as chilli powder into the UK were sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison.
The UKBA is known to be stepping up measures to crack down on drug traffickers. Seizures of class A drugs from April to September 2011 had been greater than the whole of the year, it said. 2,116kg in 2010-2011, and 773kg of heroin were seized, up from 473kg.
Chris Sturman, chief executive of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation, said: “It is problem we are aware of and we have got to guard against it.”
Sturman warned that space sometimes existed to store drugs over the fifth wheel of trailers or in the main chassis longitudinals.
“If a consignment of drugs were seized on a lorry, it and its load could be impounded or confiscated, costing £100,000 or more,” he added.
However, Gary Tilburn, md of temperature controlled distributor Reed Boardall, said its encounters with illegal trafficking had been rare.
One exception included the discovery of eight immigrants hiding on one vehicle arriving from France, according to Tilburn.
He said: “We could hear a knocking coming from a vehicle in our yard and when we opened it, eight people ran in all directions.”
In another example of criminals targeting the industry, officials also discovered machine guns packed in the tyres of another trailer.