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Food transport from local warehouse poses potential health risk

Food transport from a local warehouse could pose a potential health risk. (KSNV)

From fast food to fine dining, you’ll find just about everything to your palate’s desire here in Las Vegas.

But how does that food get to the restaurants?

Most of it is shipped directly from a distributor, though, some of it comes from a popular local food warehouse called Restaurant Depot.

Food distributors are highly regulated and have fleets of refrigeration trucks to deliver their products.

However, many restaurants, we learned, are buying supplies at a Costco-style membership warehouse just southeast of the Strip. It’s where restaurant workers are sent to stock up on food supplies when the restaurant can’t wait for its next shipment from a distributor.

At Restaurant Depot, they sell everything from meats and dairy to produce and packaged goods.

But unlike with distributors who use specialized refrigerator trucks to transport their product, many customers here simply toss items into a car after purchase; sometimes it’s the trunk, the hatchback, or even the back seat of an open-air convertible.

It’s a risky practice, even dangerous, according to the Southern Nevada Health District, especially on a typical summer day in Southern Nevada.

“The temperature is hot, it’s difficult to maintain those good temperatures,” said Gary Robinson, an Environmental Health Specialist with the Health District.

“It does need to come in at 41-degrees or colder,” he continued, “and they do need to monitor with a probe thermometer and take an internal temperature, make sure it hasn’t been abused, that the temperature hasn’t gone up.”

Robinson says when the cold cycle is broken, bacteria quickly move in.

Foodborne illness is common in America, affecting millions every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,000 people die annually from eating contaminated food.

We spent a few hours outside Restaurant Depot on a day when the temperature topped 110-degrees, and customers repeatedly tossed raw and frozen meat products, along with other perishables, into cars. Some of it was food headed to local restaurants.

We even followed some customers to see how long it would take to get to their destination.

One Mini Cooper convertible, loaded with raw chicken and dairy items, traveled 30 minutes to a local Mexican restaurant. Another car we followed traveled 46 minutes to a Mediterranean restaurant. On board were boxes of frozen chicken legs and other meat products.

We also conducted our own unofficial test using a consumer grade meat thermometer, placing ground beef, fresh chicken, steak, and milk in the trunk of a car. After a 30-minute drive, we checked the temperature of each item.

First, we checked the chicken. After 30 minutes in the trunk of a car, the thermometer read right around 54 degrees. The ground beef came in at 57 degrees and the steak registered at 61 degrees. Even the milk we tested registered high at 59 degrees.

Again, this was an unofficial test, but each item landed well above the 41-degree mark, the point at which food safety experts say is a temperature danger zone. That’s where food isn’t cold enough to suspend the activity of any bacteria present, and it isn’t hot enough to kill them.

“If you are transporting, you do need to maintain temperatures, we do need to maintain temperatures. It is a critical limit that you need to meet,” said Robinson.

According to the Southern Nevada Health District, Restaurant Depot, itself, has never been cited for health violations, and for its part, the company says they are proactive when it comes to encouraging safe food handling after purchase, including offering free frozen gel packs to customers, and consumer tips for safe transport on their website.

In a statement to News 3, the company wrote:

“Our ‘Keep it Kool!’ program provides a transportation solution for every order size, and at the same time is a customer education program. Customer awareness and acceptance continues to grow as seen in 2016 when we distributed over 10 million free frozen gel packs to our customers. We continue to strongly promote ‘Keep It Kool!’ to our customers. Our free frozen gel packs, used with ‘Keep It Kool!’ insulated bags, blankets, and pallet covers, help maintain maximum quality and freshness. We support the small business owner and take an active role in helping them succeed."

Our investigation saw very few, if any customers at all, utilizing these items.

While restaurants are inspected and regulated by the health department, and food distributors by the USDA, we learned no one is apparently monitoring customers who use their own cars to transport food items to local restaurants – restaurants where you and I may be ordering our next meal.

Restaurant Depot would not go on camera for our story. We also attempted to speak with the restaurant workers who purchased food, then drove off in their own car. They offered no comment.

All restaurant workers are required to obtain food handler safety training cards through the health department.

If you have any questions about safe food handling you can visit the Southern Nevada Health District website for more information.

Restaurant Depot also has details about the 'Keep it Kool!' program on their website.

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