$144K of juice spoils at food bank, audit shows

Food bank allowed juice to spoil

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More than $144,000 worth of juice purchased with taxpayer money spoiled at the Mid-South Food Bank last year.

That was among the major findings detailed in an audit report paid for the food bank.

Auditors with the Memphis firm Reynolds, Bones & Griesbeck PLC found the food bank failed to distribute and store the juice in a proper manner, as required by the United States Department of Agriculture, resulting in the loss of 56,896 pounds of orange juice and 28,997 pounds of cranberry juice.

"Our goal is to make sure that we're providing nutritious food to our food insecure neighbors and unfortunately for us this happened," said Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of the Mid-South Food Bank. "We've been good stewards of the resources that we have and this was a hiccup and this was not a problem that we couldn't solve."

Mayhue-Greer said the juice spoilage was an isolated incident. She said a combination of problems led to the spoilage. She said the food bank received too much juice that people didn't seem to want and the agency lacked the space to store it. She also said problems with a freezer at the facility at 1269 Heistan Place made the situation worse.

"Our facility, our current facility, is very old and antiquated and we've had issues with our freezer going out of temperature," said Mayhue-Greer. "Once it goes out of temperature then we cannot distribute that product."

The auditors said "improper training" and "employee turn-over" caused the problem.

"We recommend proper training over the inventory distribution process," auditors wrote.

Mayhue-Greer, who is retiring later this year, acknowledged food banks often struggle to retain employees and provide competitive wages.

According to a USDA national policy memorandum, agencies that receive USDA foods "must ensure that foods...are stored in a manner to protect them from spoilage, infestation, damage, or other condition that may jeopardize the wholesomeness or safety of the foods."

The policy memorandum also says, "as a general rule, distributing and recipient agencies should use a first-in-first-out (FIFO) system of inventory mangement."

The food is part of USDA's Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans.

USDA foods are purchased with taxpayer money by the federal government and state agencies like the Tennessee Department of Agriculture distribute the food to food banks and community action agencies, which in turn distribute the foods to local food pantries and soup kitchens.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture said agencies that receive this food can ask for help if they have trouble storing it.

"If the shelf-life becomes a concern for these agencies or food banks and they notify us far enough in advance to allow the food to be distributed before the expiration date, we work to find other locations that can use the food," said Will Freeman, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Freeman said the agriculture department was not contacted to assist with the USDA juice mentioned in the audit before it expired.

"However, we are working with the Mid-South Food Bank at this time to assist them with other food items," said Freeman.

Mayhue-Greer said the problems mentioned in the report won't happen again, especially once the food bank moves into its new facility next month near south Perkins and Knight.

“We are operating 20 years behind,” said Mayhue-Greer. “Our new facility will bring us into this century.”

WMC Action News 5 originally found the audit on the Tennessee Comptroller's website in early February and began looking into the issue.

While the food bank's website contained previous year's audits, the audit detailing the loss of the juice was not published to the agency's website for the public to read until Wednesday afternoon, nearly five months after it was finished, and after WMC Action News 5 pointed it out to the food bank.

The Mid-South Food Bank has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a major national charity assessment organization. The food bank was given high marks for accountability, transparency and financial performance.

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