WBTV Investigates: Company changes way it handles some food

Shopping in disguise

Pineville, NC - A Charlotte area company delivering groceries to homes has changed they way it handles some food products after WBTV asked questions to North Carolina food safety regulators.

Lettuce Carry has been in business for more than two years. Customers order groceries on-line and they are delivered homes, sometimes within a few hours.

"I found this job on Craig's List," said Aaron Williams.

Williams was hired as a delivery driver for the company. He contacted WBTV with concerns about where Lettuce Carry was getting some of the groceries. He said if the company didn't have what was needed in stock, in its warehouse, drivers would shop at Harris Teeter. Williams says before going in managers suggested a wardrobe change.

"We get in front of the store, I'm getting to ready to jump out of the van and (Lettuce Carry manager) tells me no, hold on, take your shirt off first," said Williams.

Williams said he was even more troubled by what happened after leaving the store. He says drivers would re-wrap the items they bought to get rid of Harris Teeter logos, including things like fresh fish.

"There's no setup, its just get in the back and wrap it," said Williams. "Re-wrap it and put it back in the bag that it belongs to on that order."

WBTV watched Lettuce Carry drivers over a six-week period from late-February to mid-April. Often drivers did stop at Harris Teeter grocery stores to pick up items. Before the drivers went in, Lettuce Carry shirts did come off. They would be put back on as soon as the driver came out.

Ray Schmitt, Lettuce Carry's Vice President of Supply Chain says shirts came off for competitive reasons. He says the company didn't want customers to see their logo inside the store.

"That kind of mentality just kept carrying over to where it just became almost like a habit," said Schmitt.

But what about the purchases made inside the store? When it comes to handling fresh food, particularly fish, there are very strict regulations. Schmitt said he wasn't aware of any re-wrapping going on inside the company's vans.

"Now, if it happened inside our vehicle that is not our protocol," said Schmitt. "That's 100% stated (to the drivers)."

Schmitt says the items were supposed to be brought back to the Lettuce Carry warehouse to be packaged. On several occasions, after shopping, WBTV saw drivers climb into the back of the vans. Five to 10 minutes later they would climb into the driver's seat and head straight to the customer's house.

WBTV contacted Dan Ragan with the Food and Drug Protection Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. He says his office hadn't heard of Lettuce Carry until we called him.

"They were not on our radar," said Ragan. "Having found out they operating a warehouse as a food safety organization, which is what we are, we had to find out what was going on."

Ragan's office sent an inspector. He says the biggest concern was the handling of fish.

"It was not properly labeled and there are requirements for labeling fish," said Ragan.

Inspectors said the company can't remove original wrapping, which has followed proper labeling requirements and replace it with plain butcher wrap. Lettuce Carry needs to comply with all labeling regulations.

"Once we found that out we just stopped the re-wrap," said Schmitt.

Regulators visited Lettuce Carry in late-March. A WBTV producer placed and order for delivery a couple weeks later. The order included fish. It was delivered in the original Harris Teeter package.

"I'm actually excited that you guys came, because you are going to point out any flaws that you see and they're going to get fixed," said Schmitt.

As of right now, the company has stopped offering fish. Schmitt said they will again when the company finds its own supplier.

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