Vicky Nguyen of NBC San Francisco reports that Sysco Corporation, the world’s largest food distributor, has agreed to pay $19.4 million in penalties and restitution after an NBC Bay Area investigation uncovered the company’s secret food sheds regulators called illegal and unsafe.

Inspectors from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) launched their investigation into Sysco Corporation last July, after whistleblowers came forward to NBC Bay Area to expose the company’s longstanding practice of storing meat, produce, dairy, and other fresh food in dirty, unrefrigerated, outdoor storage units.  CDPH inspectors combed though company records from July 2009 to August 2013 and found:

  • 25 unregistered drop sites across Sysco’s 7 distribution centers spanning from – Sacramento to San Diego
  • 23,287 cumulative days food was illegally stored
  • 156,740 food items stored in drop sites without temperature controls
  • 405,859 food items stored in illegal drop sites

Last summer, NBC Bay Area witnessed this potentially hazardous process first hand, as the Investigative Unit’s surveillance cameras captured raw food being transported from Sysco’s Fremont distribution center to unrefrigerated storage lockers in Concord and San Jose where it was placed on the floor next to insects and rattraps. The food sat for hours in temperatures as high as 80 degrees before it was picked up by sales associates and delivered to restaurants and hotels.

In a written statement, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office wrote: “The July 2013 NBC report triggered a state-wide investigation by the California Department of Public Health and, ultimately, an enforcement proceeding brought by the California Food Drug and Medical Device Task.”

Following their investigation (pdf) Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties ultimately filed suit.

As part of the settlement, Sysco agreed to pay more than $4 million in restitution, including a $1 million food contribution to food banks throughout California and $3.3 million to fund a 5 year state-wide-program aimed at helping health inspectors enforce food transportation laws.