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July 18, 2014

LARGEST US FOOD DISTRIBUTION COMPANY TO PAY NEARLY $20 MILLION IN CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWSUIT FOR HOLDING PERISHABLE FOOD IN UNREFRIGERATED SHEDS

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — fayarfa @ 4:53 am

SANTA ANA – The nation’s largest food distribution company, Sysco Corporation, will pay nearly $20 million dollars in a consumer protection settlement for illegally holding perishable foods, such as seafood, milk and raw meat, in unrefrigerated, unprotected storage sheds. This is the largest settlement of a food safety prosecution in California history.

This case was investigated by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and prosecuted by The California Food, Drug and Medical Device task force, made up of the District Attorney’s Offices of Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Marin, Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and Shasta Counties. The case was filed in Santa Clara County.

Deputy District Attorney Tracy Hughes of the Consumer Protection Unit prosecuted this case for the Orange County District Attorney.

Circumstances of the Case

Sysco is the largest food distribution company in the nation and among the largest worldwide.

California law requires food distribution companies to register all vehicles and sites used to transport or store food with CDPH, which regulates food distribution and storage of perishable items to protect consumers from unsanitary conditions and food-borne illness.

Beginning in or after 2010, Sysco used unregistered storage facilities and vehicles to store and transport smaller food shipments to commercial restaurants, schools and hospitals. Sysco trucks routinely delivered food orders to unrefrigerated mini-storage units, the same type in which people store extra furniture and other household items. Most of these units had no refrigeration and some were unsanitary. The shipments included products such as seafood, pork, beef and dairy products, all of which are extremely perishable.

These smaller orders were dropped secretly at these unregistered locations for employees to transport later to commercial customers.  Sales representatives transported these smaller shipments in personal, unrefrigerated vehicles, also in violation of California law.

The practice was uncovered by a reporter in Northern California. State inspectors subsequently found that Sysco had used at least 22 unregistered storage sites throughout California. Food coming through these sites reached commercial customers, and ultimately consumers, throughout the state.

In addition to violating Health and Safety Code sections by transporting and holding potentially hazardous foods at unsafe temperatures and storing food in unregistered sites, Sysco also engaged in misleading advertising, falsely claiming to use only “state of the art distribution warehouses,” and go “above and beyond government regulations.” Sysco trucks also bear the slogan, “Quality Assured.”

Sysco has agreed to strict injunctive terms to cease the unlawful and unsafe practices. As terms of the settlement, they will be required to pay $15 million in civil penalties, $3.3 million to fund a food inspection program administered by the CDPH, Food Safety Division, and to implement a company-wide food safety and food safety education program. Sysco will also provide $1 million worth of fresh food to California food banks to be distributed based on need. Approximately $55,000 of fresh food will go to Orange County food banks.

Orange County District Attorney / Case # 114CV268078 / July 20, 2014

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