Sysco Corporation, one of the country's largest food distributors, is facing major penalties after NBC Bay Area surveillance cameras caught Sysco employees storing raw meat, milk and vegetables food for hours before taking the food to restaurants all over Northern California.
“I’m shocked,” Pat Kennelly, Food Safety Chief of the California Department of Public Health, said after seeing NBC Bay Area’s exclusive video.
He said 14 state health inspectors fanned out across northern California from Monterey to Fort Bragg Tuesday morning. They were stunned to learn Sysco employees were using outdoor storage units as makeshift warehouses to keep raw meat, milk and other perishable foods for hours before delivering them to restaurants.
Inspectors found evidence of food storage at the sheds, which were un-permitted and not suitable for food. They said Sysco acknowledged it kept these sheds hidden from the state for years. Inspectors found rat droppings, insects and other unsanitary conditions inside the sheds.
Sysco delivers food to 400 thousand clients worldwide. Food safety practices and laws require certain foods to be refrigerated during the entire process, from warehouse to big rig to restaurant.
But Kennelly said there was a major breakdown in the Sysco system.
NBC Bay Area surveillance cameras caught drivers making overnight drop offs of chicken, pork, beef, bacon, milk, and vegetables to metal sheds in San Jose, San Francisco, and Concord.
Sysco admitted to inspectors this has been common practice at 14 different sheds throughout Northern California. The company told the state it would immediately break the leases with the storage facilities and stop storing food in these conditions.
“It was very disappointing to see they were cutting corners and jeopardizing the safety of the [food] product and the people who eat it to be more efficient or to make another sale. That's not an acceptable way to handle food under any circumstance,” Kennelly said.
Investigators say Sysco faces misdemeanor criminal charges and a one thousand dollar fine for each violation.
Based on what inspectors have already learned in the past 24 hours -- the fine is expected to be substantial.
Kennelly said 3,000 people die each year of food-borne illness.
We reached out again to Sysco for comment about the investigation today but our calls were not returned today. On Tuesday the company emailed a statement saying:
“Our company policy states that Sysco-controlled drop-sites must be secure and equipped with refrigerator/freezer units. Sysco San Francisco has immediately ceased its practices in relation to these drop-sites and will review and implement the correct practices with its sales and delivery teams.”
Do you have a tip for The Investigative Unit? You can call the Investigative Unit’s tipline at 888-996-TIPS or send an email to TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com.