Guadalupe, CA – Disgusting. That’s the way a produce hauler described a situation he recently encountered when picking up a load of produce in late November.
While waiting to get loaded at Guadalupe Cooling in Guadalupe, CA, OOIDA member Michael Yeagle asked to use the restroom facilities on Saturday, Nov. 24. What he witnessed in those two restrooms at the cooling facility prompted him to share his concerns and about potential unsanitary conditions and cross-contamination issues at the facility with Land Line Magazine.
Yeagle said he was worried about cross-contamination issues after noticing that drivers and workers were tracking through waste water from an overflowing urinal in one of the bathrooms and then walking out onto the loading dock. He said he even noticed one guy walking around with used toilet paper on the bottom of his boot. Another bathroom, located directly across the hall, contained piles of used toilet paper in a trash can, which was overflowing onto the floor.
He said he thought about notifying officials at the local health department, but assumed that on a holiday weekend, it would be closed. Yeagle phoned Land Line on Monday, Nov. 26. On the same day, he forwarded photos he took with his cell phone.
On Thursday, Nov 29, after cross-contamination possibilities were flatly denied by James Donati, president of Guadalupe Cooling Company, Land Line traveled to the West Coast to check it out.
Guadalupe Cooling Shipping Manager Danny Vincent met with Land Line on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the facility in Guadalupe. At that time he said that even though the company isn’t “in the bathroom business,” his superiors told him prior to Land Line’s visit that they planned to take the complaint very seriously. Vincent said his superiors told him that plans were in the works to construct new bathroom facilities away from the loading dock for drivers to use.
“We had bad bathroom facilities, shame on us, but we aren’t in the bathroom business, we are in the food business,” Vincent said. “We are friends to the truck drivers; our business couldn’t exist without them. So as Guadalupe Cooling continues to grow and change, we will continue to update our facilities.”
While Land Line visited the Guadalupe Cooling facility on Saturday, Dec. 8, Guadalupe Cooling Safety Manager Josh Vinje said that a scheduling glitch with the maintenance staff scheduled to work over the long Thanksgiving weekend resulted in no one showing up to take care of the bathroom facilities, which both drivers and workers use.
On Dec. 8, Land Line found the restrooms were clean. The overflowing urinal in the one restroom was removed from the wall to prevent future problems. However, neither restroom contained floor drains to handle water in case of overflow. Vincent pointed out there are small holes for overflow drainage located in the low wall of the concrete walkway leading up to the cooling facility’s offices and loading dock.
Vincent said on Dec. 8 the proposed plan included a modular building which would have flushable toilets and hand washing facilities for drivers to use. The bathrooms would also have floor drains and its own septic system.
On Dec. 11, Vincent said that although the plan still has to be approved by the cooling facility’s board of directors, expected to meet on Thursday, Dec. 13, he was confident the board would approve the plan.
Later on the same day, Donati, president of Guadalupe Cooling, advised Land Line that the company would not proceed with the plan until further evaluation. The cooling facility was recently inspected by the California Department of Public Health.
“I cannot commit that we’re going to make these changes because it hasn’t even been discussed yet,” he said. “Beyond that, I cannot speak as a company as to whether or not we will move forward with a modular restroom as you are understanding today. I’m not saying we’re not, I’m saying I can’t speak for that.”
As of press time on Wednesday, Dec. 12, the health department’s report had not been released.
Lea Brooks, public information officer with the CDPH, said the investigation is still underway and that it is usually weeks or months before a report of this type of investigation is completed.
“At this point in the investigation, I can confirm that we are investigating,” Brooks wrote in an e-mail to Land Line on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
Why food facilities should be in the bathroom business
After reading about Yeagle’s encounter at Guadalupe Cooling in Land Line, several produce haulers have called or e-mailed their own personal experiences similar to Yeagle’s at loading facilities across the country.
Some have said they have been denied access to restroom facilities, while others have been told to use portable facilities with no handwashing facilities and are forced to use the weeds to relieve themselves or if they leave the facility to find a restroom, they risk missing their appointment times.
OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz, who hauled produce for more than 20 years, said these practices of not providing adequate facilities for drivers to use are unacceptable, especially when they are then directed to handle and load produce.
“These facilities need to be aware that drivers are human beings and should be treated humanely,” he said. “In an area of hypersensitivity to food safety issues, this is unacceptable that drivers are given unsanitary facilities or no facilities to use.”
– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer