Feds Swoop In to Nail Bay Area Sandwich-Maker Accused of Serving Bacteria On White

Say it's lunchtime and you're at the local gas station trying to choose between the chili cheese dog withering away under the heat lamp or the pre-packaged chicken salad sandwich -- which is going to be healthier? Your instincts might say: Sterile-looking, triangle-shaped sandwich. But the Department of Justice says: If it's a REL's sandwich, go with the cheese dog.

The DOJ filed a federal suit yesterday in San Francisco District Court against Oakland-based REL's Food, Inc. -- which makes the pre-packaged sandwiches one might find at a gas station or convenience store --  claiming the company has repeatedly ignored federal warnings about health violations and sold "adulterated" food to customers. Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller told SF Weekly that the sandwiches had been distributed to stores throughout California -- including San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. Ron Owens, the spokesman for the state Department of Public Health confirmed that the state enacted an "embargo" on REL's sandwiches nearly three weeks ago, so you shouldn't find them on any shelves near you.

Here's why the feds think that's a good thing: REL's hasn't exactly had a clean bill of health for a while now. In roughly the past three years, harmful bacteria has been discovered everywhere in the REL's production area according to the suit: from broom bristles to the in-feed belt of the packaging machinery to the production tables to the tuna scoops to the meat slicer. The lab that conducted the tests also found that bacteria enjoy the finished product -- the bugs have shown up in the roast beef, ham and cheese, tuna, turkey and cheese, and chicken salad sandwiches. In the court docs, the feds identify the company's cleaning methods -- specifically the use of a high-pressure water hose -- as being especially problematic because some of the bacteria colonize in moist environments. The company was inspected and sanctioned no fewer than 10 times since 2002.

Consuming the bacteria found in the sandwiches can induce serious health consequences, especially for high-risk groups like newborns or those who have an impaired immune system. Symptoms run the gamut to a runny nose to miscarriages to death. The feds are involved because the company receives food from out-of-state, and ships food to Nevada. REL's produces roughly 44,000 sandwiches per week, including 22 kinds of ready-to-eat sandwiches that supposedly have a shelf life of 10 to 14 days -- that is, before health code violations cut that shelf life short.

H/T   |   Courthouse News

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