SyscoUSA: The USA’s largest food distribution company has agreed to pay almost $20m in penalties for failing to ensure that perishable foods were kept properly refrigerated.

Last year, it was discovered that some of the California operating companies of Sysco Corporation were holding perishable foods in unregistered and/or improperly refrigerated storage sheds, known as drop sites.

A civil enforcement proceeding brought by the California Food, Drug and Medical Device Task Force resulted in Sysco agreeing a settlement of almost $20m in restitution, costs and penalties.

Sysco, like all food suppliers, delivers food to restaurants, hotels and schools using a fleet of refrigerated food trucks to transport most of its products. However, last year it was discovered that for some small orders Sysco food trucks were delivering products to unregistered storage sheds for later pick-up by other employees who then transported the food in their personal vehicles to commercial customers.

A state-wide investigation by the California Department of Public Health revealed that Sysco operating companies used 22 unregistered sites in California. Most had no refrigeration and some were unsanitary.

Sysco voluntarily cooperated with the investigation. In addition to paying $15m in civil penalties, the defendants agreed to pay over $4m in restitution, including a $1m food contribution to food banks throughout California, and $3.3m to fund a five year state-wide program for the inspection and enforcement of food transportation laws. Sysco was also required to develop a comprehensive food safety programme to ensure that the practices are not repeated.

Commenting on the settlement, Bill DeLaney, Sysco’s president and chief executive officer, said the company sincerely regretted its failures but maintained that food safety was the company’s No 1 priority.

Since last year, Sysco has eliminated the use of drop sites and has introduced mandatory, annual food safety training for all its employees. In addition, it is said to be implementing additional and improved food safety reporting, monitoring and compliance controls across its operations.