Tough to swallow: Sysco fined $19.4 million for unsafe food storage practices

Food distribution giant Sysco Corporation has agreed to pay $19.4 million in fines and restitution for storing food in unrefrigerated and unsanitary buildings in California. NBC’s Bay Area affiliate broke the news earlier this week. The settlement includes $15 million in penalties, $3.3 million to fund four California Department of Public Health investigator positions for five years, a $1 million donation to food banks across California and $127,000 in costs.

According to the NBC coverage:

The historic penalty is one of the largest consumer settlements in California. 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.”

Sysco also issued a public statement from the company’s president and CEO, Bill DeLaney, concerning the settlement and the company’s commitment to food safety, noting that Sysco cooperated fully during the investigation.

"Food safety is Sysco's No. 1 priority, and it cannot be compromised. We sincerely regret that some of our California companies failed to adhere to our long-standing policies related to drop sites… We have comprehensively addressed our food safety and quality assurance practices in California and across the Sysco enterprise by putting in place the following positive steps:

“First, as we stated in September 2013, we eliminated the use of drop sites across Sysco. Second, we have introduced mandatory, annual food safety training for all employees across Sysco. Third, we are implementing additional and improved food safety reporting, monitoring and compliance controls across our operations to ensure adherence to our policies."

The incident comes at a time when food storage and transportation safety has already been in the spotlight due to the pending regulation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerning the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food.

According to Dr. John Ryan, president of Ryan Systems, shippers’ customers’ are the ones driving the move to tighter regulations. Ryan has spent over 25 years implementing high-technology quality control systems and is credited with piloting the first farm-to-fork, Internet-enabled food traceability system using sensors and RFID technology to help get the job done.

“Mostly, the suppliers’ customers are the ones who want to know the data about the perishables they are paying for,” he says. “They are driving this because they are the ones on the front line facing the customer, the end user. Their message is plain: You are responsible for what you are shipping to me.”

The regulation is expected to be issued in its final form in March of 2016.

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