HOUSTON – Sysco Corporation, along with seven California operating companies, will pay $20 million in fines for storing perishable foods — such as raw meat, milk and seafood — in unrefrigerated sheds.

The Santa Clara County district attorney's office reported that Sysco agreed to pay $15 million in penalties, more than $4 million in restitution — including $1 million food contribution to food banks throughout California and $3.3 million to fund food transportation inspectors for five years. Sysco must also develop a comprehensive food safety plan.

“When we go out to eat with our friends and families we should be assured that our meals are safe to eat,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “It is not a luxury for our food to be handled with the utmost professional care to ensure that it is not dangerous. That is your right and that is the law.”

A July 2013 report by NBC in the Bay Area triggered a statewide investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The investigation revealed that Sysco would deliver some small orders of perishable foods to unrefrigerated and unsanitary sheds. Other employees would later pick up the orders in their personal vehicles and deliver the food to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools, according to the DA. State inspectors also discovered that Sysco used 22 unregistered sites. Sysco voluntarily cooperated with the investigation which led to a lawsuit filed by the California Food Drug and Medical Device Task Force.

Bill DeLaney, president and CEO of Sysco, said food safety is the company's highest priority.

“We sincerely regret that some of our California companies failed to adhere to our long-standing policies related to drop sites,” DeLaney said in a statement. “The California Department of Public Health and the county district attorneys received our full cooperation in their investigations of our practices. In addition to the settlement with the state, we have comprehensively addressed our food safety and quality assurance practices in California and across the Sysco enterprise by putting in place the following positive steps:

“First, as we stated in September 2013, we eliminated the use of drop sites across Sysco. Second, we have introduced mandatory, annual food safety training for all employees across Sysco. Third, we are implementing additional and improved food safety reporting, monitoring and compliance controls across our operations to ensure adherence to our policies.

“Taking these steps reflects Sysco's commitment to food safety across our enterprise. We accept responsibility for the breakdown in our system in California, and we have taken this opportunity to improve our practices and to re-emphasize to our customers and our employees that food safety is our No. 1 priority.”