I-Team: Restaurants Ignore Protocols When Transporting Meat, Perishables

BOSTON (CBS) – A WBZ I-Team investigation uncovered an unappetizing and potentially hazardous practice in the restaurant industry.

During weeks of summer surveillance, cameras captured small businesses routinely ignoring protocols to help keep food at the optimum temperature as it is traveled to establishments around the Boston area.

After getting a tip, several I-Team producers and photographers spent hours watching in the parking lot of The Restaurant Depot in Everett, a wholesale food warehouse used exclusively by restaurants and other food-related businesses.

In sweltering 90-degree weather, the I-Team saw restaurant workers piling meat and other perishables into the trunks of cars and the beds of pickup truck.

Truck leaving The Restaurant Depot on hot summer day (WBZ-TV)

Truck leaving The Restaurant Depot on hot summer day (WBZ-TV)

The list of items included large sides of meat, 2-foot long sleeves of ground beef, cheese, eggs and other dairy products. The food was placed into vehicles without a cooler or ice pack in sight.

In one case, a man and his teenage helper loaded meat and eggs into their small sedan. The I-Team followed to the final destination and saw them unload at the restaurant nearly an hour later.

Another man loaded several pounds of ground beef into his trunk and then went back inside the Restaurant Depot to run another errand. The meat sat in the vehicle almost 15 minutes before the driver pulled out of the parking lot.

A crew of several workers packed an entire non-refrigerated van to the roof with meat, vegetables and other perishable foods.  The lettering on the side was from the White Mountain region in New Hampshire.

FDA regulations require that all potentially hazardous food, including meat, must be at 41 degrees when it arrives at the establishment.

Workers pack meat, perishables into trunk on hot summer day (WBZ-TV)

Workers pack meat, perishables into trunk on hot summer day (WBZ-TV)

According to Boston University nutrition professor, Joan Salge Blake, anything above that is considered the danger zone, when bacteria multiplies much more rapidly.

“The rule of thumb is that food be in the danger zone for no more than two hours, but if it is 90 degrees or higher outside, no more than one hour,” she explained.

To test just how meat would react to being placed in a confined and hot space, the I-Team tried an unscientific experiment, placing a large package of ground beef into the trunk of a car in temperatures near 90 degrees.

An hour later, the temperature of the meat had gone up nearly 20 degrees.

Workers pack van full of meat, perishables at The Restaurant Depot (WBZ-TV)

Workers pack van full of meat, perishables at The Restaurant Depot (WBZ-TV)

According to Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, restaurant owners are well aware of the rules and would not do anything to jeopardize their businesses. He said every food and beverage establishment has someone who has gone through certification and knows time and temperature standards.

“It’s of paramount concern,” Luz said. “Without a safe food environment, we are not in operation.”

While he would not comment on the undercover video without knowing the circumstances, Luz said it might look worse than reality.

“A piece of meat that’s 15 or 20 pounds would hold that temperature for an awful long time,” he said.

But here is what is really surprising: Restaurant Depot has a huge “Keep it Kool” campaign, urging customers to purchase insulated containers to transport food.

There are visual reminders up inside the store, verbal reminders at checkout, and millions of frozen gel packs given out for free at exits, spokesman Gene Casazza said.

Despite those efforts, the I-Team never saw the insulated bags or frozen gel packs being used. On a few occasions, the I-Team did see Restaurant Depot members loading items into their own coolers.

When approached in the parking lot, the I-Team asked one restaurant owner if she had any concerns about transporting perishables without a cooler.

“We are always very concerned,” she said. “We do take the temperature when we get to the restaurant again and if it’s fallen out of the temperature danger zone then we dispose of it.”

There was no way to know the exact temperature of the food the I-Team saw transported when it arrived at various locations around the Boston area. That is why WBZ is not identifying specific restaurants or workers.

Along with the “Keep it Kool” initiative, Casazza said the story should serve as an important reminder to its members.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.


More from Ryan Kath

One Comment

  1. Chris Christie's Belt says:

    I take a cooler to buy fish, not many people do. People walk around the supermarket with milk for 20 minutes then take it home in a hot car. Now that goes bad in 30 minutes, a huge slab of meat does not,

  2. Chris Christie's Belt says:

    Hey Trump supporters:

    Donald Trump floated rolling back food safety regulations if he wins the White House in November.

    In a fact sheet posted online Thursday, the campaign highlighted a number of “specific regulations to be eliminated” under the GOP nominee’s economic plan, including what they called the “FDA Food Police.”

    “The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food,” it read.
    “The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when,” the statement continued. “It also greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.”


    Trump’s casino restaurant had 53 code violations one month, and a man died from eating bad food there. Yet he wants to no longer require the safe handling of food or any temperature regulations,

    Trump is nuts.

    1. im right says:

      let me think, 25 years of the most corrupt politician in modern history or MAGA! Trump 2016


    1. Robert Shapiro says:

      Type in lowercase if you are too lazy to just capitalize a few letters. You are probably as bad of a lawyer as you are a typist.

  4. Tony Khouri says:

    As one employee of a large international foodservice distributor i know we are diligent about food safety as part of the delivery service we provide to the eating away from home industry!

    Restaurant owners that put profit ahead of food safety are criminal in there intent and should be identified.

  5. ELaw says:

    That one person is actually claiming they’ll drive to the place, spend a bunch of money on food, drive back to the restaurant, check the temp, and if it’s off by any amount they’ll toss the food in the dumpster? Yeah, sure, I’m definitely buying that… NOT.

  6. Janet Aveni says:

    This is no different than what the average person does in the grocery store. Food is left in a hot car in the “danger zone” while the person finishes their errands and drives home and then unloads the car (or has to wait until their husband unloads the car). it can certainly be more than two hours. I have not heard of any big outbreaks of food poisoning lately, since Chipotle and that was caused by sick employees. No story here.

  7. alice craft says:

    While this is a hot topic. They should take a look at loading docks or local Super Markets, where trays and trays of dairy and meat products are left out in the hot sun for hours and hours, before they are rolled inside to a cooler area to bring the tempature back down to regulation. It is not just restaurants that mishandle food consumed by humans. Where is the Board of Health inspectors??? The insurance adjusters should be seeing this too. There would be less payout for food losses if this was monitored.

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