Last week, in a more or less horrifying and revealing discussion of improper food storage practices by a nationally recognized food distributor, we learned that cutting cold chain corners was something of a standard practice. Well, at least for one food distribution group in particular. In my opinion, it's one too many, especially for the multibillion dollar company who knew the difference between good and bad refrigeration practices and were knowingly gambling with consumer health when they decided to store perishable food items in 21 unregulated and unreported storage units across California.
It's not news to anyone in the food distribution industry that when food is not kept at proper cold temperatures, or sits at temperatures over 41° F for more than 20 minutes, bacterial growth can double every couple of minutes! So, that perishable food items were knowingly being stored in such conditions is criminal and careless! But, if the improper storage of your food isn't enough to scare you, maybe this frightening contribution to the investigative NBC report on the same distribution company will!
According to the same investigation regarding illegal cold storage practices by a largely successful food distribution company that was reported nationwide in the summer of 2013 (I still won't name any names, but I will tell you that in 2013 they did $44 billion in sales), NBC found that perishable food items were not only being stored at temperatures as hot as 81°F, temperatures that exceed “Danger Zone” temperatures by 40°F, but that the storage units that were supposed to be temporary drop sites were not only excessively hot, but also, beyond unsanitary.
Yes. As awful as it sounds, it's true. When the report came out, not only did consumers have to worry that they had may have consumed food items that were not kept at proper temperature, but also, in filthy conditions. The NBC report revealed that when inspectors finally did visit these drop sites after they were exposed, they found that the storage units were filled with rat droppings, insects, rust, dust and other debris. Yikes.
It's hard to emphasize the importance of food distributors to keep their perishable food items cold AND clean. It seems like it should be a no-brainer for food industry workers who should understand the standards that are kept in place in order to keep our food safe for consumption. By just adhering to these simple standards for food storage, the potential for food born illness outbreaks, widespread infection and spoilage can be significantly improved, and ignoring these guidelines for profit gain is absolutely unacceptable.
During the time of these investigations, what was scary for consumers who were ordering from restaurants and cafes that they trusted to have safe products for consumption, was that they had no way of guaranteeing that their food was free of contaminates and bacteria. They faced health risks simply by ordering their favorite salads with extra sides of mayonnaise-based dressings, or wraps featuring their favorite proteins, that were delivered by this particular distribution company. How could they know for sure if the chicken on their chicken sandwich had been refrigerated or had actually been stored among dust mites and rust particles at an unrefrigerated and undisclosed location? Unfortunately, they couldn't, and they just had to take a bite and pray that they wouldn't get sick from lunch.
Perhaps equally as disturbing is that the restaurants that were serving this improperly stored food thought that they could guarantee the safety of their product to the customers they were serving. After all, they were ordering from a national supply company who promised the employment of best practices, boasted impressive sales statistics and ensured compliance with FDA standards.
The bottom line is that most food products begin to rot and spoil immediately after they are pulled from the ground, simply because they are no longer linked to a water source from the original plant, and therefore, cold storage units are absolutely necessary to make sure that the product doesn't excessively spoil with each day. But, that's not all. Those cold storage units better be clean too! They are simple practices that, when carefully observed, can help avert major health crises.
This piece is not intended to scare you from ever eating out at a restaurant again, nor to stop you from eating altogether, for that matter, but, actually, meant to enlighten you to some of the harsh realities of the food industry at the distribution level and make you aware of the importance of safe storage standards. It's an urge for you to be inquisitive with the people that are serving you food, being educated about what you're eating and asking questions to stay healthy! This particular distribution company, since the public investigation by NBC, claims they have stopped using these drop sites and delivery practices for good, but it's not to say that there aren't other distribution companies out there still employing the same illegal methods of food storage today.
Although remote temperature monitoring products can't help you clean your refrigerated storage unit, they CAN help you to determine if your refrigerator and freezer units are maintaining proper temperatures. The easy-to-install, low-cost, accurate, automated and continuous remote temperature monitoring editions are an efficient and fault-tolerant way to guarantee to consumers, whether it be it restaurant buyers or consuming customers, that food products are safe to eat from a temperature perspective. Don't you want to feel good about that sinking your teeth into that chicken sandwich that's lying on your plate? Of course you do.
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.