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