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Food Transportation: Distributor Disasters

Jul 30, 2014

Over the past couple of weeks, we've begun to take a look at the history and advancements of current refrigeration practices, the potentially disastrous affects of improper temperatures on bacterial growth and consequent food born illnesses and the importance of maintaining cold storage for perishable food items at every stage of your food's journey to the plate –from production to delivery.

At this point, it should come as no surprise that good refrigeration practices are vital in ensuring the safety and health of perishable food products. So, in today's modern and technologically advanced society, can you think of a reason why the cold storage of perishable food items distributed by one of the most successful, nationally operating food distributors might be ignored?

Trick question!

The answer is that under absolutely no circumstance should the cold storage of perishable food items ever be compromised; especially by largely successful food distribution companies, who not only know better because they know very well the potentially dangerous hazards that can result from the consumption of improperly stored food, but also, who can afford proper refrigeration units for product storage.

The scary fact of the matter is that, even when budgets allow for proper refrigeration units and when unfavorable consequences of poor refrigeration practices are understood, food distribution companies don’t always observe proper cold storage. Yep. You read that right. Unfortunately, food distribution companies across the country have been known to compromise cold storage practices of perishable food items. It's a frightening truth that was brought to the foreground of food safety discussion last summer after an NBC investigation of a nationally recognized food distribution company (I won't name any names) and their product storage practices. The horrifying report, that sparked national media attention, revealed the disturbing truths about commonplace, improper food storage practices by major food distributors.

The story begins back in the summer of 2013, when investigative journalists at NBC reported that one of the global leaders in food distribution, with more than 425,000 clients and 193 operating locations throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Canada and Ireland, was guilty of using 21 unrefrigerated storage sheds across Northern California to store meat, dairy, produce and other perishable food items before being delivered to their final destinations. The investigative report included recorded video footage of perishable food items, including chicken, pork, beef, bacon and milk, sitting in these sheds, sometimes overnight for up to five hours, in temperatures as hot as 81°F, before the products were delivered to hotels and restaurants across the state. The California Department of Public Health, in their own investigation following the NBC report, found that the storage sheds were never registered with the state and never inspected. 

But why would a multibillion-dollar company with a good reputation take this kind of risk with consumer health, you ask? According to responses from company sources, in response to the investigation, the sheds were supposed to be a cost-efficient way to deliver small orders to clients that weren't profitable enough to be delivered in a big refrigerated truck and only supposed to be a temporary storage solution.

When this investigative report came to the surface and gained negative national media coverage, this food distribution company was caught with their pants around their ankles, and were forced to not only make some big, public apologies to their clients across the country in monetary form, but also, had to prove to their clients that gambling with their health was a practice that they were going to cease immediately and correct with prompt action.

Still, it doesn't matter how quickly the storage centers were shut down. How many of the 48 million people a year in the U.S. that contracted a food born illness were affected because of these knowingly improper food storage practices? How many of the 3,000 deaths a year due to food bacteria and spoilage could have been avoided had this distribution just observed proper, lawful refrigeration practices? How many of the 128,000 people in the U.S. a year that end up hospitalized due to food illnesses could have been saved the trip? It's hard to calculate exact numbers, but my best guess is that these unsafe storage practices probably didn't help in reducing any of these numbers.

It's too bad that these days “cost-effective” and “cutting corners” have become synonyms for money-hungry corporations that are more concerned with maximizing company profits than guaranteeing safe products for their consumer clients. For nationally recognized food distribution companies, there's no excuse for using unregistered and unrefrigerated storage units for perishable food items, because if anyone should be familiar with food born illness and bacterial growth statistics, it should be them, right? As a recent, former manager of a California seafood restaurant, who happened to do high-volume ordering from this particular food distribution company myself, I'm appalled and horrified at the thought of not only serving potentially infected food to my customers, but also consuming it myself!

With the truth about these practices made public with news reports, not only was new attention called to the broader issue of breaks in the cold chain's final links, but also discussions about cost-effective and preventative solutions were initiated. Perhaps had this particular food distribution company known how easy and affordable it was to invest in remote temperature monitoring devices, they could have saved themselves the headache and embarrassment of negative media attention, extensive lawsuits and huge account losses that resulted from their improper refrigeration practices. 

It's been almost a year since the NBC report surfaced and since then, the food distribution company under investigation has promised that the storage sheds in question have since been closed and that poor refrigeration practices are no longer being observed. From here, it seems to me that the reputation of this company can only be improved and with the help of low-cost, automated, remote and continuous alert systems, like for example, the Wi-Fi and Cellular Editions from Temperature@lert, customers can have more to rely on than just the distributors word for it that their products are being properly stored at cold temperatures, and not only achieve peace of mind, but peace of stomach.

refrigerator monitoring, food safety, food monitoring best practices, best refrigeration practices



  • Written By:

    Kate Hofberg, Epicurean Essayist

    Temperature@lert’s resident foodie from sunny Santa Barbara, Kate Hofberg, creates weekly blog posts, manages the content database, and assists with the marketing team's projects. Balancing a love for both the west and east coast, Hofberg studied at University of California Santa Barbara, where she received a Bachelors in Communications, and Boston University, where she is currently a Masters candidate in Journalism. Before coming to Temperature@lert, Hofberg trained in her foodie ways through consumption of extremely spicy, authentic Mexican food with her three brothers and managing a popular Santa Barbara beachside restaurant. Through her training and love of great food, she brings fresh methods of cooking up content. When Hofberg is not working on Temperature@lert marketing endeavors, she serves as a weekly opinion columnist for the Boston University independent student-run newspaper, The Daily Free Press. If time permits, Hofberg enjoys long walks, reading, playing with her cat, and eating pizza. Her ideal temperature is 115°F because she loves temperatures as hot and spicy as her food.

    Kate Hofberg

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