Food distribution giant Sysco has been ordered to pay nearly $20m in restitution for keeping perishable food in unrefrigerated storage.
Sysco has been found guilty of keeping perishable foods (including seafood, milk, and uncooked meat) in unrefrigerated sheds. A California court has ordered the company and its seven operating companies in the state to fork over $19.4m for the offense.
Betrayal of trust
Jeffrey Rosen, district attorney in California’s Santa Clara County, said in a statement Sysco’s offense constitutes a significant breach of consumers’ trust in the peole that produce and distribute the food they eat.
“When we go out to eat with our friends and families, we should be assured our meals are safe to eat,” he said. “It is not a luxury for our food to be handled with the utmost professional care to ensure it is not dangerous; that is your right, and that is the law.”
According to the suit, the company’s food trucks carried some of its smaller food orders to unrefrigerated, unsanitary sheds. Those orders reportedly later would be picked up by Sysco employees who used their personal vehicles (instead of company vehicles) to tote the food to customers.
Last year, a news report by a local television station exposed the alleged offenses by Sysco, triggering a state-wide investigation into the company’s food-storage practices by the California Department of Public Health. That investigation, in turn, led to an enforcement proceeding conducted by District Attorney’s offices in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
State inspectors ultimately determined Sysco utilized a total of 22 of these unregistered, unauthorized food storage sites in the state of California, most without refrigeration or proper sanitation. Sysco officials reportedly cooperated with the investigation.
The $19.4m fine attached to the complaint includes $15m in penalties. It also includes more than $4m in restitution, including $1m in product contributions to state food banks and $3.3m for a five-year, state-wide program to fund the efforts of inspectors enforcing food transportation laws.
Additionally, the decision mandates Sysco to create a comprehensive, company-wide food safety program to guarantee such illegal, potentially dangerous food-chain practices do not happen again in the future.
FoodProductionDaily has not been able to reach Sysco representatives for comment. We will provide additional details as soon as the information is available.