A hidden health hazard in some of the food you buy: Authorities say the trucks delivering that food to stores may be putting your family at risk. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.
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When we go to a restaurant or grocery store, we assume the food is fresh. Who would ever think it may have been spoiling in a hot and humid truck on its way to the store? We found it last summer — trucks carrying unsafe food. Now police say it's still happening, and getting worse: unsafe food bound for your dinner table.
We went on patrol with the Indiana State Police. There was no radar gun; instead, Sgt. Rich Kelly was armed with a food thermometer, randomly checking food delivery trucks for unsafe temperatures. “This summer has been exceptionally bad,” Kelly told us.
Indiana is known as the “crossroads of America”: If you eat it, chances are it was hauled through there. But in the brutal Midwest sun, if the truck’s cooling units are off, food can turn foul even before it hits store shelves.
On our first stop we found trouble; police said the truck’s refrigerator wasn’t working properly. By law, the food should have been at a cool 41 degrees; some of it was pushing 60! There were yogurts in there too, for kids, all destined for a dozen grocery stores.
Local health officials condemn it, and chuck it. Remember, you could have eaten this.Video: Rossen Reports: The dirty truth about food courts
The driver told us he was actually relieved the cops stopped him: “I'm glad that it didn’t make it.” His company told us it monitors food temperatures carefully and that the unit was working when the truck left the warehouse, claiming the driver would have disposed of bad food before delivering it.
Ron Schnitzer, a microbiologist specializing in food safety, said that in warm temperatures, dangerous bacteria like E. coli and salmonella can breed on food. “Someone could actually die from consuming this food,” he said. “We're playing Russian roulette with our food supply.”
And the worst was yet to come. Another truck’s refrigerator was broken; the inside temperature, 101 degrees. The meat and chicken were even attracting flies. Police found raw meat with juices dripping through the box, leaking on the vegetables below. Even if washed, they could still make you sick.Story: Rossen Reports: Are air-conditioning repairers being competent and honest?
“The order was so strong it took me aback,” Kelly said. The food was headed to popular Chinese restaurants in Indiana. The trucking company didn't return our calls.
While police did find several trucks doing the right thing, too many are in violation. Cops say some companies actually shut their refrigerators off on purpose.
“These refrigeration units run off diesel fuel,” Kelly explained. “It does cost money to run these systems, and they shut 'em off to save money.”
Last summer, as we showed on TODAY, one trucker claimed his refrigerator wasn't working, but as we were shooting, he suddenly turned it on. His company later told us the refrigerator was on when he left the warehouse, and called it a mechanical problem.Video: Hot trucks may deliver spoiled food (on this page)
“They save a few dollars here and there, with us at risk,” Kelly said.
More Rossen Reports
Today, Indiana is one of the only states targeting these food trucks. Believe it or not, there is little federal oversight.
And Capt. Wayne Andrews of the State Police is boiling. “The feds are not doing their job,” he said. “The states have been left to fix the problem.”
In 2005, Congress told the FDA to come up with stricter guidelines for food trucks. Almost seven years later, the FDA hasn't done it. Congress even set a new deadline of July 2012 — last month — and still nothing.Story: Rossen Reports: Are you getting what you pay for at the pump?
The FDA declined to go on-camera, but sent us this email: “The rule-making process can take time and we are working diligently to ... strengthen and modernize our nation's food safety system.”
“There is a serious risk here to health and public safety,” Andrews said. “If this doesn't make them act, I dont know what would.”Video: Hidden health hazards in food delivery trucks (on this page)
And until they do, police say, for every truck they stop, countless more get away, carrying bad food, most of it headed for small restaurants and grocery stores. But they say the big national chains are actually pretty good about turning away bad food.
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