Produce hauler shocked by unsanitary conditions at loading dock

| 11/26/2007

Although it was Michael Yeagle’s first time loading produce at the Guadalupe Cooling Company’s facility in Guadalupe, CA, he said the sanitary conditions he witnessed on the dock were the worst he’s seen in the 18 years he’s been hauling produce.

Yeagle is a professional truck driver from New Weston, OH.

He told Land Line that while waiting for his pallets of broccoli to be loaded on his trailer on Saturday, Nov. 24, he went to find the restroom facilities, which are next to the cooler.

He said he refused to use the first bathroom he went in after observing piles of used toilet paper on the floor, but he did use the urinal in the second bathroom. He said he really became concerned when he flushed the urinal, then noticed its contents were draining out onto the dock’s concrete floor.

Yeagle said he reported the situation to the shipping clerk on duty after watching a forklift driver drive through the overflowing wastewater eight separate times while loading pallets of broccoli onto Yeagle’s trailer. He also took photographs of the scene with his camera phone.

“I went to the shipping clerk and told her what I had seen and that these forklift drivers were driving right through this shit and contaminating my trailer,” he said. “She said, ‘Do you want to get loaded or not? Driver, go stand by your door and count your freight.’ ”

Guadalupe Cooling’s Shipping Manager Danny Vincent told Land Line on Monday that the problem was an “isolated incident,” stemming from the fact that both the janitor and the janitor’s manager were on Thanksgiving vacation at the same time. He said that there “definitely was a problem” with the restrooms.

“By the time I realized what was going on it was Saturday night, so what happened between the time that your driver walked in there and I saw it, I can’t say,” he said. “I know what the shape of the bathroom was in – it should have been closed the moment that one toilet started backing up, and it was as soon as I saw it.”

Vincent said more than 200 drivers are in and out of the facility every day and that during the weekend there was a huge rush of drivers who picked up loads.

“As soon as it was brought to management’s attention it was cleaned up – the situation has been taken care of,” Vincent said. “Guadalupe Cooling is not an unsafe food facility.”

Such conditions were discussed at a FDA food safety hearing earlier this year when an OOIDA official who is a former produce hauler testified about the various ways, including unsanitary conditions at docks, that microbial pathogens can contaminate produce.

“This is precisely what I talked about in my testimony before the FDA,” said OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz. “It is outrageous that truck drivers are forced to live with these conditions after the produce industry touts how safe they are.”

Although he wanted to refuse the pallets of broccoli because of potential contamination issues, Yeagle did not have the authority to refuse the product due to the agreement with his buyer. That agreement was to make six pick ups throughout the Salinas Valley.

“The buyer would have refused my whole load,” he said.

Rajkovacz said he knows exactly what position Yeagle was put in on Saturday. It’s a position that many produce haulers face when they are scheduled to make multiple “picks” for the same company. If they “cut the load” and refuse a pick up, they risk losing the whole load, which in this case would have been a loss of approximately $4,900.

Yeagle said he thought about notifying officials at the local health department, but assumed that on a holiday weekend, it would be closed. On Monday, he called the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to discuss the incident. OOIDA is a national organization representing more than 157,000 professional truckers. Yeagle is a member.

He also plans to show the pictures he took at the cooling facility to his buyer.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer