Loretta Seto couldn't believe what she was seeing at a San Jose supermarket Thursday, so she took our her cellphone and snapped photos of the surreal scene.
Two men, dressed in yellow coats, were pushing oversized shopping carts filled with raw, unwrapped meat into the store - presumably for sale. In both carts, the meat was piled high, topped with unwrapped pork legs that jutted out into the open air.
Seto posted the pictures on Facebook later that night, with a caption expressing her shock and disgust. The incident had unfolded outside a 99 Ranch Market store across from a Costco on the north side of San Jose, Calif., she said.
"We were at the 99 Ranch Market across from this Costco and saw their vendors delivering meat with Costco shopping carts!! Talk about disgusting!" Seto wrote. "I'm usually okay with sticking the kids in the seat of the [shopping cart] basket, but this is a whole new level of gross. Beware."
Her pictures sparked hundreds of angry comments, concerned not only about the cleanliness of the carts, but also about the sanitary level of the meat sold at 99 Ranch Market, a California-based Asian supermarket chain.
Two days later, Seto's widely shared post has resulted in the firing of two employees and sparked an investigation by the Santa Clara Department of Environmental Health.
"We are taking immediate steps to conduct a thorough investigation and appropriate actions to ensure food safety for the public," the health department said in a statement to the San Jose Mercury News about the "unauthorized delivery of pork." "Other regulatory and oversight agencies, including those at the federal and state level, shall be notified as appropriate."
Meanwhile, the supermarket and the meat vendor each appear to be casting blame on the other for the unsanitary incident.
A representative for 99 Ranch Market responded directly to Seto's Facebook post, saying it had tossed all pork meat shown in the photos and filed a complaint against the vendor, NBC Bay Area reported.
"99 Ranch Market is committed to food safety and customer satisfaction. In addition to an investigation and filing a complaint, we immediately discarded on-hand inventories of the related pork products," the company said in the Facebook comment. "Again, thank you for your patience and understanding. We'll continue to take all necessary steps to resolve this issue with our customers in mind."
However, the vendor has denied that this is the way its meat is delivered, according to a spokeswoman at Jim's Farm Meat in Winton, California, about 70 miles east of San Jose.
"We are thoroughly investigating the incident," Maria Moon, a manager at Jim's Farm Meat, told the Modesto Bee. "This isn't anything we typically do. When we send our products out, they are always in a combo bin and wrapped. That's how it left our facility."
Moon told the newspaper the two employees shown in the photos had been fired but suggested the delivery method may have been at the request of 99 Ranch Market.
"Whatever [the two employees did] is nothing we would have approved," Moon said, according to the Bee.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends all meat products be packaged during processing and storage to prevent contamination. Though federal law in the United States does not require stores stamp "sell by" or "use by" dates on pork products, most stores do so anyway, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department warns that not properly cooking pork can result in the transmission of parasites and bacteria that could be in the meat, including E. coli and Salmonella.
Fresh pork roast, steaks, chops or ribs can be refrigerated for three to five days, while fresh pork liver can usually be refrigerated only one or two days, according to USDA guidelines.