Investigation reveals food safety concerns; ISP working to crack down

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by Andy Treinen, WHAS I-Team

WHAS11.com

Posted on October 25, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 22 at 2:35 PM

(WHAS11) -- How much do you know about the food you're ordering at local restaurants? Indiana State Police say some of that food is contaminated before it ever gets to the restaurant. The WHAS I-Team went on a food enforcement operation with the ISP, the State Department of Health and the FDA to find out the facts.

The State of Indiana has a problem, a problem that's having an impact on its police force. "There's restaurants I don't eat at because of doing this," said State Trooper Kelly Lazzell.  It's a problem with no borders. But troopers like Lazzell are in search of solutions and those solutions are getting results.

In the last 5 years Indiana State Police, in partnership with the State Department of Health, confiscated more than 25,000 pounds of spoiled food that was headed to restaurants in both Kentucky and Indiana. "This food is being shipped to restaurants and stores for human consumption and certainly we want to make sure that the food that people are eating is safe to eat," says Sgt. Noel Houze.

Click here for pictures from the Indiana State Police from previous operations they've conducted.

It's food gone bad because it was in trucks that the driver either couldn't or wouldn't turn on the refrigeration unit. "There’s nothing more dangerous than chicken that's allowed to be transported at 82 degrees," says Captain Wayne Andrews. But before a recent law change in the Hoosier State, Indiana troopers couldn't do anything about it. "We could see food in there rotting and not do anything about it," said Andrews. "No authority could do anything other than call board of health."

But today, it's an all a new ball game as evidenced by this operation earlier this month. The WHAS I-Team went along as ISP, the FDA, and Indiana State Department of Health as vehicle enforcement tracked down, pulled over and inspected every truck on Interstate 64 with a refrigeration unit.

"What I'm listening to is if that [refrigerator] is on and it will tell you the temperature of the [refrigerator] outside," explained Lazzell as we rode along with him doing food enforcement.

One driver's refrigeration unit wasn't on because he was hauling ceramic tiles and not food. Trooper Lazzell checked his load, checked his record and sent him on the way.  Lazzell says he's seen some nasty stuff on these food enforcement stops. "You open the back and the stink just drove you out of there," explained Lazzell.

This year alone, police stopped 118 trucks and 506 trucks in the last 5 years. They’ve tossed about 25,510 away. And now, thanks partially to Captain Wayne Andrews testimony before the house and senate, it's the haulers, and not the Department of Health (or the taxpayer), who pay for the disposal.

"We changed the law, created a whole new law that specifically addresses this problem," explains Andrews.  Before Indiana legislators unanimously passed the new law, police couldn't even cite the drivers: and the food couldn't be confiscated and dumped.

The new law lets officers write tickets if food is more than 2 degrees above 41 or 43 degrees. "This food's going to all of our families, you're favorite Chinese restaurant, your favorite Mexican restaurant- all of these local restaurants that all of us eat at- troopers included," says Andrews.

If you're wondering about the State of Kentucky - so were we. As it turns out, Indiana is really taking the lead. Several other states are following suit, but not Kentucky. We requested an interview with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and a spokesperson sent us this statement: “While there is no dedicated surveillance program in place for these vehicles, if one is discovered during routine surveillance activities those agencies would notify the appropriate public health staff.”

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But even if food like this is discovered and even if it's at 75 degrees, police cannot confiscate it, or cite the driver. And make no mistake; this food is coming into, and out of Louisville. "Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to maybe create some more food inspection enforcement projects and bring Kentucky along and get the ball rolling for them," hopes Andrews.

Now back to the operation on October 11th. Only 2 drivers and 4 trucks were taken out of service for violations not related to food.  One truck was shut down for carrying too heavy of a load. We waited as he waited for another truck to off-load and we noticed he turned his refrigeration unit off.

After we asked about it the driver did turn his refrigeration unit back on - but he didn't understand our questions about why he turned it off.  Police tell me a language barrier is a problem in enforcement, and trucks are required to have someone in the cab that understands and speaks English.

This food is crossing state lines sometimes three and four times a day, Captain Andrews says, it should be, and one day maybe will be, a federal law. But in the meantime it's much easier to get laws passed at a state level. When they get several states on board it will be much easier to pass a federal law.

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