State trooper Bob Hauge packs heat and a thermometer in his squad these days. In addition to his regular duties as a law enforcement officer, he has taken on the role of "food cop."
As the weather warms up, troopers will be taking the temperature of the edible cargo in trucks to make sure what is being carried is safe to consume when it arrives in stores, restaurants, and homes.
Just about everything we eat travels on the road at some point. The law requires anything that's perishable, be kept at 45 degrees or less, to curb the growth of harmful bacteria. People can get sick from eating food that has not been properly refrigerated.
What they're finding
What the troopers are finding is enough to turn stomachs.
"How would you like to eat a 3-day old lobster tail that's been rotting in the back of a truck?" an instructor that was teaching troopers how to conduct the food inspections said.
Records obtained by the Fox 9 Investigators show inspectors stopped a truck from out of state with a load of seafood at dangerously high temps. It was headed to some restaurants. Another case involved a truck hauling pre-packaged meals to a nursing home. The refrigeration unit had been out of order for a week. The elderly are more vulnerable to food poisoning. The inspectors have also stopped a truck hauling eggs at 70 degrees.
Troopers started turning up the heat on hot trucks last summer. They find 15 percent of the vehicles checked are hauling food that's poorly refrigerated. Some have no cooling system at all.
The CobornsDelivers case
One of the biggest cases so far involves CobornsDelivers. The company trucks groceries right to consumers' homes.
"We were seeing temperature ranges between 70 and 80 degrees inside the vehicles," said Ben Miller from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture which regulates food safety.
On four separate occasions, inspectors stopped Coborns trucks for delivering food at unsafe temperatures. Turns out none of the vehicles had refrigeration systems. Instead, food was stored in plastic bins with ice packs. Hauge said some food items were 20 degrees over the safety limit and in those cases the company voluntarily disposed of the product.
State officials want Coborns to install refrigeration units in all of its delivery trucks by April 2016. The company declined to do an interview with the Fox 9 Investigators but a spokesperson says it will comply with the deadline. In the meantime, it's shortened delivery routes on hot days, improved insulation on coolers, and given drivers thermometers to make sure cold packs are keeping food at safe temperatures.