In July, an NBC Bay Area investigation discovered that Sysco, the world's largest food distributor, was storing raw meat, dairy, and produce in unrefrigerated sheds in the US and Canada. Now the same station reports the USDA is investigating. A local meat trade association reportedly complained to the USDA after seeing the initial NBC report (which said its cameras spotted food left in sheds for up to five hours before heading out for delivery, with outside temps hitting 81 degrees), prompting the federal investigation. The state had already gotten involved: In July, California health inspectors found 21 sheds used by Sysco in the state. Canadian investigators found 15 more in Ontario last month.
Sources told NBC the food stored in the sheds was part of orders that were too small, and therefore not profitable enough, to merit a refrigerated truck from start to finish. Food safety experts have sounded the alarm for years about the lack of enforcement over what happens to food between the farm and the consumer. "When food enters a transportation arena, it basically becomes invisible. Nobody knows where it is. Nobody knows what conditions it’s being shipped under," says one such expert, who adds that there's currently no federal certification for proper food handling by food distributors. Sysco says it is cooperating with the investigations, and has stopped using sheds to store food. (Read more Sysco stories.)