Before it gets to your favorite restaurant's freezer, raw food from some local restaurants is being transported improperly, a CBS 5 investigation has found. Meat, eggs and other perishable foods were caught on camera being transported long distances in hot vehicles.
"I think one of the reasons why is the cost of food coming out of the refrigerated warehouses or some of the other restaurant supply houses," said David Ludwig, with Maricopa Environmental Services.
Ludwig said because of the high cost of professional delivery, some restaurant owners buy and deliver their own food directly from local wholesale warehouses, like Costco and Restaurant Depot.
"I can only assume they do this to save money, but they don't look at what the potential risks are," Ludwig explained.
The CBS 5 investigation found many local restaurants and food markets decided to take that risk.
An employee from Phoenix Mini-market loaded chicken, beef and dairy products into the back of his white van at a local warehouse before making a more than 15-minute drive to his local shop off McDowell Road. The temperature inside the Phoenix Mini-market van was about 99 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to the Maricopa County Environmental Services Heath Code, all meat and other perishable foods must be transported in coolers or vehicles that remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
CBS 5 Reporter Greg Argos showed the undercover video to Ludwig.
"Time is the critical element," Ludwig said.
"Here, clearly there is no cooler. With chicken, you have things like salmonella. In beef, you could have E.coli. A 20-minute car ride or truck ride is going to probably increase the bacteria load. It will double it in that time span," Ludwig said.
Over the three-day investigation, there were other examples of health code violations.
The owner of Chris' Diner in Arizona City shopped at the Restaurant Depot in Mesa. He filled up his SUV with eggs, meat and other food before driving more than an hour to his business.
After following the owner to his business, he allowed CBS 5 News to check the surface temperature of his meat, which was about 69 degrees Fahrenheit.
"I'll make sure he gets coolers put in here," said an employee at Chris' Diner.
"We appreciate it, because some of the stuff we didn't know, and we'll have the coolers in it next time," that employee continued.
However, a man who identified himself as a manager at Margarita Rocks restaurant in Tempe said he knew the health code.
"Everything has to be refrigerated when it's transported," said the manager.
He claimed to have followed the regulations, but CBS 5 cameras caught him loading and unloading raw meat from the back of an SUV. The food was not in coolers.
The Environmental Services Department does not have the manpower to monitor food transport, Ludwig said.
"We don't have staff to be out in parking lots looking for this to happen," Ludwig said.
Rather, they are inside, inspecting the cleanliness of the actual businesses
"We're doing about 1,400 (restaurant inspections) a week," he said.
So it is entirely up to business owners to make sure what happens outside does not make someone sick while they are dining inside.
"If individuals do get sick, that could be the end of the business. If an average business has a foodborne outbreak, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars," Ludwig said.
Ludwig said the easiest way for restaurant owners to abide by the health code while transporting food is to simply buy a cooler, fill it with ice and keep a thermometer inside to ensure the temperature stays below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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