In a disturbing investigative report conducted by NBC News, Sysco Corporation, one of the nation’s largest food distributors, was caught illegally storing steak, chicken, pork, milk, and produce in unrefrigerated storage sheds across Northern California.
Houston-based Sysco Corporation is the largest food-service distributor in North America. With 172 distribution facilities, Sysco supplies 400,000 customers including restaurants, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, movie theaters, summer camps, amusement parks, and hotels and motels, with every imaginable food item on the market.
From the Potato latkes at the Four Seasons in Manhattan, to the sirloin steak at Applebee’s, top food supplier Sysco serves nearly 400,000 eating establishments with thousands of ready-made frozen items to five-star restaurants, all the way down the food service chain to fast-food eateries like Wendy’s.
Beginning last May, the NBC Bay Area investigative unit staked out four different outdoor unrefrigerated storage units that Sysco rents throughout the California Bay Area.
On several occasions, cameras recorded food left sitting unrefrigerated for hours at a time in sheds that were not permitted to store food or water because of the potential for food to “attract rodents”
An NBC Bay Area source with inside information revealed Sysco’s dirty secret has been going on for over a decade.
“This was something that had been going on for a long time — over 10 years,”the source told NBC. “Enough is enough, the public needs to know where their food is coming from”
State and federal law requires that potentially hazardous foods like meats and dairy be placed in a temperature controlled environment at all times. State law also prohibits food of any kind from being placed on the ground by food handlers.
Yet at 4:30 a.m. one weekday morning, NBC’s hidden cameras observed a Sysco delivery truck arriving at an outdoor, unrefrigerated storage shed in Concord, where the driver unloaded box after box carrying bread, lettuce, cheese, and raw pork.
NBC captured Sysco salesmen picking up the food in their personal cars to deliver to customers. Five hours after the delivery truck first arrived, a salesman finally loaded a case of “Butcher’s Block”pork into his trunk.
NBC followed that pork from the back of his car to the back of a Concord restaurant.
NBC claims the pattern was the same at every shed they observed, up to six days a week, including hot days summer days when the temperatures inside a nearby unit measured 81 degrees.
Sysco stored raw chicken, beef, vegetables, and milk on the floor inside these sheds. At one facility, NBC observed food being stored just a few feet away from a rat trap.
NBC Informed California Food Safety Chief
The NBC Bay Area investigative unit revealed its findings to the state’s Food Safety Chief, Patrick Kennelly, who launched an investigation.
“I was actually very shocked, especially with a company of this size,”Kennelly told NBC.
Kennelly said the sheds were unpermitted and hidden from state inspection until NBC Bay Area’s investigation. When state inspectors examined the sheds, they found rodent droppings, insects, and other unsanitary conditions.
His office is now reviewing Sysco records to determine the number of violations. State inspectors said the company could possibly face up to $1,000 for each violation.
“There are 3,000 deaths per year believed to be linked to food borne illness in this country. There are 48 million cases of illness and up to 3,000 people die every year so it’s a big issue,”Kennelly said.
The meager fines these corporations receive for such egregious violations that could possibly result in the death of consumers is a pitiful joke.
Unless and until violations of this kind are punishable by criminal charges for negligent homicide against those in charge, giant food corporations like Sysco will continue to cut irresponsible corners to maximize their profits, putting us all in continuous jeopardy.
The only way to protect ourselves from this nonsense is to buy as much of our food as possible directly from local, organic farmers or farmers’ markets, and dine only at restaurants that embrace the local food movement.