Following the food on Long Island

September 24, 2009 9:17:06 PM PDT
Our undercover cameras went to Long Island and to a delivery service whose way of getting food to restaurants may have you holding your stomach. HOFFER: What about this van and this van? Do you want to show me what's inside there?
FOOD HANDLER: No, I don't want to show you nothing.
HOFFER: Of course, you don't.

He and his partner were less than happy to see us as they loaded up their unrefrigerated vans for another day of food deliveries to restaurants throughout Long Island.

HOFFER: You've been putting a lot of perishables in unrefrigerated vans?
FOOD DELIVERYMAN: And delivering them in one hour like when you go to the supermarket.

On two different mornings, our undercover cameras captured this food delivery team as they shopped for their restaurant clients at this Long Island wholesale store.

The carts are food orders they've filled that are waiting to be loaded into delivery trucks. It's thousands of dollars in food, much of it perishables that require refrigeration: meats, milk, butter and eggs sitting off to the side in room temperature.

Just after 11 o'clock, they put some of the food into a refrigerated truck, but they're also putting it into unrefrigerated vans. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to finish loading up the van, which pulls out of the parking lot around 1:48. It's first stop is restaurant in Hicksville. The food has been out three hours.

"The practice is not acceptable and it should not be allowed," Don Schaffner said.

Schaffner, the Director of the Food Science Department at Rutgers University, says the conditions we uncovered are ripe for food poisoning:

The potential for something to go wrong is significant and the possibility of making the problem worst by temperature abuse is definitely there.

To limit dangerous bacteria growth, state guidelines require that perishable food be kept at temperatures between 45 and 41 degrees. Exposure above that should be kept to one hour or less.

"Temperature is just simply the most important factor. Anytime you are going to transport food, especially in the summer time, it's critical that those vehicles have some sort of temperature control," Schaffner said.

But our undercover video suggests a delivery service with a total disregard for how heat impacts food.

On the day in question, temperatures were in the 90's. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, and yet they were again loading up their vans with perishables that we spotted sitting out of refrigeration around noon. An hour later, just past one o'clock, they were still filling up the van. We videotaped as boxes of fresh beef and 40 pound boxes of chicken were loaded for delivery. Remember, the food has already been out nearly two hours. The first stop is more than 20 miles away at a Mediterranean restaurant in Rockville Center. There are more stops, at a sister restaurant in Baldwin. The clock keeps ticking as the food inside gets warmer. Three hours later, meats and dairy products were still inside the van.

FOOD DELIVERYMAN: "They never had any problems in their restaurants."
HOFFER: Really, so you think this is a safe way to handle food? To have it in a van for three hours.?
FOOD DELIVERYMAN: See you later.
HOFFER: Why don't you take a look at this video? This shows you transporting food for three hours. You don't want to answer the question do you?

The delivery service says it has never had any complaints from restaurants.

We should note that we offered to show our findings to state health officials, so far no response.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com.

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