Food distributor Sysco could be forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines after officials with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) found insects and rodent droppings at storage sheds the company used for perishable foods throughout northern California, KNTV-TV reported on Tuesday.
"I think this became, based on what we're seeing so far, a little bit of a runaway train," CDPH food safety Section Chief Patrick Kennelly told KNTV. "What seemed like a good idea from a marketing perspective really wasn't thought through on the food safety side of things."
The station reported that it secretly filmed employees using sheds in six cities to store and transport pork, bread, lettuce and cheese items. One employee, who did not wish to be identified, told KNTV in an interview that the practice had been going on for more than a decade, saying, "Enough is enough. The public needs to know where their food is coming from."
The Texas-based company, which services close to 400,000 restaurant and institutional customers in three countries, has reportedly parted ways with the head of its San Francisco office, Bruce Luong, and could be fined $1,000 for each safety violation. It also sent a letter to local clients promising that all food deliveries would be made in company vehicles "equipped with appropriate temperature controls."
"Sysco's first priority is our commitment to provide safe, quality-assured products to our customers," the company said in a statement to KNTV. "Sysco San Francisco's drop-site practices in the Bay Area were not compliant with company policy. We are working with local health department authorities on their investigation to assist them with their needs. We also have reviewed with Sysco San Francisco our policy, and they have taken corrective action."
KNTV also filmed Sysco sales representatives taking food out of the sheds after several hours and using their own vehicles to deliver it to clients around the region.
When asked whether the company was storing food in the lockers, one salesperson asked reporter Vicky Nguyen, "Are we?" before moving to close the shed, explaining, "I'm not allowed to talk, sorry." Another salesperson explained, "It's a common thing though, you know, because it's food distribution."
Kennelly told the station his agency sent investigators to each of Sysco's 14 sheds in northern California after initial reports concerning its storage practices.
"I was actually very shocked, especially with a company of this size," Kennelly told KNTV.
Watch KNTV's report, aired Tuesday, below.
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