No State Agency Monitors Refrigerated Trucks Transporting Your Food

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UPDATED: Thursday November 21, 2013 11:44 PM

Big rigs drive into the weigh station on I-70 near Cambridge 1,200 times a day.

Most pass over the scales and head right back onto the highway.

On the day 10 Investigates was there, we watched as some trucks got pulled around for a more thorough inspection by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“It's about the safety of the truck and the truck driver,” said Lt. Anne Ralston, OHSP.

Ralston says the Ohio State Highway Patrol's inspectors will go from top to bottom, from outside to inside, making sure the rig is safe.

"Because, if they become involved in a traffic crash, it can often times lead to significant injury and also death on our roadways,” added Ralston.

But another dangerous situation that's not well-regulated in Ohio has to do with the temperature of food being transported in refrigerated trucks. "Reefers" as they're known on the road are used for hauling food to restaurants and grocery stores.

During these random inspections, a truck's paperwork will be compared with the reefer's temperature. The unit turns itself on and off as needed to keep this semi full of frozen chicken at the right temp.

Trooper Russ McDonald is a Commercial Vehicle Inspector. He checks the temperature of the truck, and if it’s not right, he opens the trailer.

Photos show just how bad it can get.

Motor Carrier Inspectors in Butler County pulled over a semi on a blistering August and could see liquid dripping out of the rear of the cargo area. It stunk. Inside were opened bags of raw chicken and meat dripping onto boxes and crates of seafood, vegetables, fruits and eggs - food destined for small ethnic restaurants.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture ordered all 4,000 pounds destroyed.

Weeks later, the OSHP stopped this barbecue truck on its way from Nebraska to a barbecue competition in Pittsburgh. Troopers smelled spoiled food and found the truck full of unrefrigerated raw meat and unused cooked meat, with temperatures of more than 60 degrees. That food was also destroyed.

"It's is pretty rare for us to come across a load that is tainted.  It really doesn't happen all that often,” said Ralston.

Perhaps that's because the OSHP only does random checks of food temperature. It doesn't have the legal authority to do anything else.

10 Investigates wanted to know whose job it is to regularly and thoroughly monitor the refrigerated trucks.. The investigation revealed it is nobody’s job – not the Ohio Health Department, not Ohio Department of Agriculture, and not the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Even worse, there's little federal oversight of refrigerated trucks.  The Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011 was supposed to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.  

"But we've got to do more...” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

The Ohio Senator says although the FDA now has the ability to quickly and accurately trace the source of tainted food, rules for food trucks still haven't been written.

"The big grocery stores and the food processors and the food manufacturers are very concerned about this,” added Brown.

But it's smaller trucking companies that are more likely to have problems with temperature control -- local truckers who service mom-and-pop or ethnic restaurants and stores. One issue may be cost. Reefer units run on diesel fuel.  Some drivers may turn off the units to save money.

"The vast majority of truck drivers and companies are doing things the right way,” said Ralston.

But as 10 Investigates discovered, had it not been for two random stops, thousands of pounds of spoiled food would have made it onto dinner plates.

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