Dirty Dining: Seafood safety questioned

Source of Article:  http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local/story/Dirty-Dining-Seafood-safety-questioned/-qsxBNrOaU-Rd397MJW4Kg.cspx


Reported by: Wendy Ryan


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TAMPA, FL -- Year after year, we've shown you what happens behind the kitchen doors of some bay area restaurants.

From cross contamination to roach and rodent infestations, state inspectors write up violations and put some businesses on notice.

But Shad Benson says there's something else that could be putting your health at risk when you eat out and it's the trucks that transport the food.

"I've seen some pretty bad cases," Benson said.

Benson owns Tampa Truck Wash and has been in the truck washing business since 1984.

Over the years, he's seen the inside of some trucks carrying food that would turn your stomach!

"We've actually gone in some trailers - gone in there with a shovel before we go in there with actually using water to clean them out," Benson said.

Benson and several experts we spoke with including a University of Florida professor, who studies food transportation say there's a missing link when it comes to food safety while it's transported from the warehouse to a restaurant or grocery store. And that state laws need to be improved.

"The one step that I see left out the most is inspection of the trailers prior to loading," Benson added.

We met Benson at his shop after we captured on camera what appeared to be questionable transportation practices of one bay area seafood distributor. And we showed him the footage.

"What's your opinion on this?" ABC Action News Anchor Wendy Ryan asked.

"I would think that has a huge potential for contamination issues. You're going from waste to food that's going to be on the table without a cleaning process in between," Benson commented.

On four visits over six weeks, our undercover cameras caught workers in the early morning hours loading their delivery truck with what appeared to be trash, including bins of fish carcasses and then, hauling them off to a local landfill.

On one occasion we followed them into the dump, unloading the debris in the vehicle, including what smelled like rotting fish.

Each time an hour or two later, the workers loaded up the same truck with what appeared to be boxes of seafood and made deliveries to bay area restaurants. Out of the four days we witnessed, the truck was only cleaned out one time.

"So this doesn't surprise you?" asked Ryan. "No, not really," Benson replied.

The Department of Agriculture in Tallahassee regulates all food distributors and enforces Florida's food safety code.

Michael Lombardi, the environmental administrator for the Department of Agriculture declined an on-camera interview but agreed to speak with us by phone.

"Food items should not be transported in a vehicle used to transport solid waste, hazardous substances, hazardous waste, biohazardous waste or any substance that may pose a threat to human health," Lombardi said.

Ryan asked Lombardi if a company can legally use the same truck to deliver fish carcasses to a landfill and then deliver fresh seafood, without sanitizing the vehicle in between.

"Inedible parts of fish, if they are handled and stored properly, are no different in terms of health risk than the edible portions that are caught from that same fish. It can be done provided definite steps and procedures are in place to ensure the safety of the food products," Lombardi said.

After viewing our footage, the state did send a sanitation specialist out to the seafood plant for an inspection and in his report, he wrote "the firm was advised not to use refrigerated trucks used for delivery for other tasks other than for the delivery of food."

The sanitation specialist's report went on to say "during my visit, none of the trucks were present for my inspection."

"We're concerned about any condition that would pose a health risk," Lombardi said.

But Benson says there is a gray area in the law and since most food distributors only get inspected once per year, the industry needs to be regulated more stringently before someone gets really sick.

"It's pretty scary when you hear on the news every day about all of the bacteria breakouts and food problems that are caused from food contamination," Benson said.

So how common are cross-contamination issues when food is transported? 

We asked USF professor Dr Daniel Lim with the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. While Lim believes there could be additional state rules and should be more guidelines, he says that reports of cross-contamination are very rare. Click here to learn more.


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