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Dangerous deliveries: Local day cares receiving unsafe food

Posted: 12:15 PM, Apr 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-26 14:17:03-04
Dangerous deliveries: Local day cares receiving unsafe food

It happens every day. 

You drop your kids off at day care, expecting them to be safe. You expect the food they eat is safe too.

But a Contact 5 investigation found unsafe, out of temperature food being delivered to day cares in our 5 county area. 

Watch: Part 1:

 

"We have to do better because it’s our kids. We have to look out for their safety," says one Palm Beach County day care owner, who's been in business for decades.  

Watch: Part 2:

 

WPTV findings:

Through the Federal Child Care Food Program, 68 childcare facilities in Palm Beach County and 6 in Martin County use Diana Food Group as a catering company. Diana Food Group also serves childcare facilities throughout Broward, Dade and St. Lucie counties. 

WPTV has found that some of Diana Food's delivery trucks are not properly outfitted with refrigerators, and on multiple occasions, we have video footage showing that there is not enough capacity to cool the dairy. FDA regulation says dairy products, including milk and yogurt, must kept at or below 41 degrees at all times. Our cameras caught temperatures as high as 62 degrees.

Even if food appears to be cool enough when it is delivered, the food could have been out of temperature for hours in transit, because during the many hours that food is in transit, it appears no state agency is checking on the temperature and safety of the food.

Health Department inspectors only inspect the day care. 

DBPR, the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, are the ones who inspect catering facilities. 

But DBPR told Contact 5 they don't license or regulate delivery vehicles, nor do they tell caterers what refrigeration, if any, they need.  MORE UNDER THE 'WHAT DOES THE STATE SAY' SECTION.

41 Degrees

 

"Everybody knows that milk, it begins to spoil if milk is not kept at the right temperature," says one Palm Beach County day care owner. 

The right temperature, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is 41 degrees. FDA regulations says milk, yogurt, and other dairy/cold food, must be kept at or below 41 degrees, at all times.

The day care owner we interviewed on camera says that's not what's being delivered. 

"Everybody knows that milk, you know it begins to spoil if milk is not kept at the right temperature."

As part of the Federal Child Care Food Program the owner's center, along with hundreds of day care centers across counties like Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie, and Dade, receive food from Diana Food Group during the week.

But over the last couple months, the owner we interviewed says the center was turning away milk, "almost like an everyday thing."

The milk was coming in several degrees higher than FDA regulation, at "47, 48 degrees" routinely.

By regulation, a day care owner must take the temperature of every cold and hot item delivered before accepting it. 

Every time.

"I actually hear from other day care owners that they receive milk not being the right temperature," our source went on to tell Contact 5.

Photo taken by daycare owner, shows milk in unrefrigerated crates.

Contact 5 heard from those other day care owners. 

One owner shared video they took when calling out a Diana Food Group driver about multiple dangerous, out of temperature deliveries. 

In a video given to Contact 5 you can hear the daycare owner say, "Put all my cottage cheese in coolers, anything yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, put it in coolers and put more ice." 

In that video there are only 2 coolers in the delivery van, a delivery van that holds milk, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, all of which are supposed to be cold at all times.

That same day care owner shared pictures that show milk piled in crates with no refrigeration.

Contact 5 asked the day care owners what they say drivers tell them when asked why the milk isn't cold.

"They said that they only have a few coolers so, therefore, all the milk can't fit in the few coolers. My center alone gets about 12 gallons a day."

And each driver makes several deliveries a day.

Thermometer shows temperature of yogurt is 62 degrees.

Contact 5 was invited inside a day care for one such delivery in December.

We watched as a day care worker took the temperature of just delivered yogurt. It was 62 degrees, 21 degrees above regulation. 

Possible Consequences

Fred Stein is a food safety specialist and owns Safe Food Connection.

 

Stein told Contact 5 what can happen if food is not kept at the right temperature. 

"If you don't keep food cold, it's going to grow bacteria." That bacteria doubles every 20 minutes out of temperature, according to the FDA.

"[You could get] upset stomach and possibly diarrhea. It could develop into something worse. With children sometimes it's even worse because their immune systems maybe are not completely developed," says Stein. 

"[You could get] upset stomach and possibly diarrhea. It could develop into something worse."

"That's why it's very very important to keep the milk cold throughout the whole process. All the way shipping to the distributor and from the distributor to the person who is delivering the meals," says Stein.

Stein says anyone running a business dealing with food knows these regulations.

What is the Child Care Food Program?

 

Diana Food Group provides services to 68 day cares in Palm Beach County, 6 in Martin and 93 in Broward through the Federal Child Care Food Program.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the Child Care Food Program provides reimbursement for nutritious meals and snacks served to children in child care settings.

A child care center can only have the program if their enrollment consists of at least 25% low-income children meeting specific criteria.

This program is funded by the US Department of Agriculture but is administered in Florida by the Department of Health, Bureau of Child Care Food Programs.

 

Records show Diana Food Group received more than 6 million dollars from Palm Beach County alone from October 2016- September 2017. 

The day care owners we spoke say they never accept nor serve the out of temperature food, but know that the drivers don't always mark it down, for fear they'll be penalized. It's required for both caterer and daycare center to do so.

The same owners are also worried that even if the food appears cool and in temperature when delivered, it may have been out of temperature during transit. They say there are also concerns the rejected food is simply given to someone else. 

 

LONG DRIVE

It's a long drive from Pompano Beach, where Diana Food Group is based.

From Chopper 5, Contact 5 saw drivers packing their vans at 4:30 in the morning.

We then watched them drop off milk and dairy at several daycare sites 5 hours later.

In each case, there was only one cooler in the van.

A History of Complaints

Excerpt of a Health Department inspector's 2016 complaint

In 2016 a Broward County health care inspector wrote to the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR), saying she "observed Diana Foods transporting milk to three of the food services I inspect in unrefrigerated trucks in crates." 

DBPR is the agency who is in charge of inspecting Diana Food Group, and other caterers like them.

"The temperature upon arrival was well above 41 degrees."

That health inspector says in her complaint, "the temperature upon arrival was well above 41 degrees. Milk in crates was observed stored in vans."

Her complaint goes on to say, "The milk was returned to the caterer at one of the facilities, but the practice persisted. The re-service of the rejected milk is a concern as well."

Contact 5 found more complaints filed with DBPR.

In May 2016 someone called DBPR anonymously, saying Diana Food Group is "not using gloves, that food is constantly dropped on the floor, picked up and re-used."

 

In July 2016 the owner of a day care in Palm Beach County wrote to the Department of Health, who then contacted DBPR. 

Her complaint was about the "catering transportation vehicle that we see every day delivering our food."

She writes "the van is in deplorable condition; no AC, the inside is completely corroded, and the painting is peeling inside and out." 

"There is just a cooler or two with ice to hold the milk, but eggs, fruit and vegetables are carried in crates with no refrigeration. We are situated in Jupiter and these meals come from Miami. The food is in that van for at least 3 to 4 hours before it comes to us." 

 

In January 2017 yet another daycare owner filed a complaint saying "when the vehicle delivered the food, the van was INFESTED!! with roaches! I have found roaches in the children's food ... I have found roaches in the coolers." 

In June 2017 there was a similar but anonymous complaint about bugs, alleging someone "had been receiving deliveries from this caterer with German roaches present."  

A month later, a daycare owner wrote to Diana Food Group themselves saying she found a rusty nail in a bag of raisins, writing"as you are aware this is just one of MANY cases of unsatisfactory food service from your company, from spoiled mashed potatoes with hair, spoiled pork, poor preparation of food, insufficient food and pest control issues."

In September 2017 a plastic glove was found in a fruit cup at another day care, according to the owner's complaint.

And in December 2017 an anonymous complaint stated there were roaches, and food out of temperature. 

2016 complaint filed by Broward County Health Department inspector

Inspections

 

In the past 4 years Diana Food Group has been cited for temperature violations 11 times by DBPR (the Department of Business and Professional Regulations).

Time/temperature control violations are considered high priority and in many cases, inspectors put a "stop sale" on the food they found out of temperature because again, FDA regulation says all cold food must be kept at or below 41. 

The walk-in cooler at Diana's Pompano Beach facility has been written up multiple times, which means the milk was already out of temperature before being delivered.

Inspectors cited Diana Food Group in April 2016 after finding "milk at 54 degrees F at outside walk-in cooler."

April 2016 inspection report

In July 2016 DELIVERED milk was measured between 62-73 degrees and many other food items, like baked potatoes and sliced pork were put on a stop sale.

Inspectors happened to look at a delivery truck in January 2017 to find milk at 56 degrees.

According to those same inspectors "milk was under no refrigeration and not enough ice was available to maintain milk cold."

In June 2017 the "milk was measured at 51 degrees in the outside walk-in cooler."

June 2017 inspection report

And in September 2017 yogurt was measured between 45-48 degrees.

All records WPTV obtained regarding Diana Food Group, Family Central and Child Care Food Program can be found here.

Family Central

 

Family Central is the agency that oversees the state contract to Diana Food Group.

According to complaints filed with the state, complaints have also been filed with Family Central regarding out of temperature food. 

Family Central would not sit down with us on camera, despite receiving taxpayer money.

When we met the Chief Program Officer in the Family Central parking lot, to ask her about children potentially being at risk, she did not answer our questions and drove away instead.

Statement from Diana Food Group

Contact 5 tried to question one of Diana Food Group's drivers after watching him deliver yogurt that had a temperature of 62 degrees.

We saw one cooler with ice and dozens of empty crates in his truck.

Contact 5 asked the driver why he had only one cooler and why the dairy wasn't at the proper temperature.

The driver did not answer our questions, instead pushing our photographer.

We then reached out to Diana Food Group's owners several times over the phone.

They wouldn't personally return our phone calls but did call us back through PR representation.

We offered to show the video we had taken, which captures the lack of refrigeration in their vans, to Diana Food Group on camera.

Instead, they asked for specific locations and dates.

We offered to give the dates but declined to give locations, explaining that would compromise our sources and those who reached out to us for help.

Diana Food Group told Contact 5 they would not be going on camera, but did give us a two-paragraph statement after months of back and forth.

"Unfortunately, Diana Food Group cannot comment on the video shown because WPTV’s management refused to show it to us or tell us the date, time or location where the video was taken unless we went on camera, something we are not comfortable doing.

What we can say with certainty is, Diana Food Group had ONLY 33 out-of-temp deliveries in the past 12 months out of approximately 175,000 total, and 100% of those items were replaced at our expense. This represents 0.00018%.

For more than 20 years we have worked hard to build our business and reputation by satisfying our customers. We know a number of our customers were contacted on the phone by WPTV and gave us glowing reviews, however the station chose not to speak to them on camera."

Richard Seligman

Executive Chef and General Manager

Diana Food Group

WPTV has our own response to that statement, noting that Diana Food Group was told they had the opportunity to view the video we had on camera, and then answer our questions about what we showed them, again on camera. They did not wish to do that. 

Contact 5 explained that we would give Diana Food Group the dates of our videos, but the locations would not be shared as to not compromise those who reached out to us for help. 

It's worth nothing WPTV did call several day care centers in the area asking whether they used Diana Food Group. Those that said yes, were simply asked whether they had had any problems. Some centers just said no, but did not give further detail. 

As for Diana's internal records, we do not have access to them but sources say drivers have told them they don't always mark down out of temperature deliveries. Concerns over the re-service of the turned away food is a concern as well, according to those same sources.

There have been no outbreaks reported to the Health Department. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases of gastrointestinal illness with similar symptoms occurring within 72 hours among children or staff who share an exposure or are in close contact and who do not live in the same household.

But day care owners say sometimes parents don't report a sick child. 

What does the state have to say?

"It's sad to think that they could be getting sick from the meal we're serving them." 

That's Florida State Representative Matt Willhite, moments after we showed him our dangerous deliveries investigation. Representative Willhite represents the western part of Palm Beach County. 

"Now when we say we want our students to get a hot meal, we don't mean our dairy products as a part of that," says Representative Willhite. 

As you read, Contact 5's dangerous deliveries investigation found dairy deliveries coming in with temperatures well above what the Food and Drug Administration says is safe.

In one case, Contact 5 cameras caught a yogurt delivery coming in at 62 degrees. The FDA says cold products must be kept at or below 41 degrees.

"There needs to be more regulations in the contracts with these companies," says Representative Willhite.

So who regulates those catering companies? The Federal Child Care Food Program is run by the USDA, but local dollars are doled out by each individual state.    

The health department says they're responsible for approving caterers for the Child Care Food Program, but they don't inspect them.

Health Department inspectors only inspect the day care. 

DBPR, the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, are the ones who inspect catering facilities. 

But DBPR told Contact 5 they don't license or regulate delivery vehicles. 

In an email, a DBPR spokesperson said the agency only "requires that caterers maintain foods at proper temperatures during transport under sanitary conditions." 

The agency goes on to say they won't, or don't tell companies what type of equipment the companies need to use to make sure that happens, saying "The division does not specify the type of equipment that is used to maintain foods under the correct conditions."
 
"Those parents, and those teachers are now bringing this to light, as well as your story and I'm compelled to make sure that everyone is getting what they are paying for and our students are safe and they are getting that meal," says Willhite. 

Representative Willhite is willing to help. He says he will request information on the Federal Child Care Food Program and determine what needs to change when it comes to regulations. 

In the meantime daycare owners tell Contact 5 they feel there's no help, and they have to take matters into their own hands. 

One Palm Beach County day care owner said she had to make "a big fuss" about her deliveries, to get them to stop coming in warm. 

"We tried to stay on them [Diana Food Group] and tell them you have to bring the milk in the cooler," the owner told Contact 5. "If you know there's a problem, you just have to fix it."

That owner along with others, has a message for the state. "Make sure the caterers are equipped better, they have the right refrigeration on the vans."

Contact 5 tried for two months to get DBPR officials on camera, and share our concerns about a lack of refrigeration in Diana's vans. 

In an email exchange first requesting an interview on policies and procedures regarding regulation of catering companies, a spokesperson said, "No one is available for an interview."

Our response was to ask whether there was no one available for an interview, INDEFINITELY.

DBPR responded saying, "Unfortunately, DBPR staff cannot grant interviews at this time."

Contact 5 went on step further with the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, telling them how children were at risk by what we found.

Over the phone, a spokesperson told Contact 5, "it's not our process to sit down and look at that video with you, you can file a complaint with the state."

Contact 5 considers this story to be our official complaint.
 

What can parents do?

As we mentioned, the daycare owners we spoke with follow the rules and turn away out of temperature food.

Parents are encouraged to ask their daycare provider who they use for catering.

If your daycare uses Diana Food Group, just ask to see records that show temperatures are being taken every day. 

Parents can also write to their local county health department and the Department of Business and Professional Regulations with concerns.