ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Former cake decorator in Alamo sues Safeway, claims Pleasanton-based company retaliated against her

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A former cake decorator at a Bay Area Safeway store has filed a lawsuit claiming managers failed to address health and safety problems she reported about a coworker at the bakery, and then retaliated against her. One key issue was a sick coworker leaving blood on the bakery work surfaces, or was it just icing?

A former cake decorator at a Bay Area Safeway store has filed a lawsuit claiming managers failed to address health and safety problems she reported about a coworker at the bakery, and then retaliated against her. She has provided pictures to the I-Team's Dan Noyes, and the company is providing their own pictures. It's a story you'll only see on ABC7 News.

One key issue was a sick coworker leaving blood on the bakery work surfaces, or was it just icing?

The 23-year-old woman worked in the Alamo Safeway bakery until the end of August. She has since moved out of state. She has asked us not to show her face.

Dan Noyes: "Why is that important to you, why not show your face or use your name?"
Cake Decorator: "Because I don't want people blaming me. I'm trying to do right now by letting everyone know what was happening and making sure it doesn't happen again."

Her lawsuit says during her 10 months at the bakery, a "Sick Co-Worker ... had severe health issues that required dialysis four times a week." And that he "was frequently unsanitary in his work habits, disbursing his saliva, mucus, hair, and bodily fluids into work environment in the bakery."

The cake decorator gave the I-Team photos showing what she says is blood on the work surfaces: the rack that holds the baked goods, a box of cupcakes, the floor, even the table where the donuts are made.

She showed one picture on her phone: "This is the mixer it's- the machine, that's his blood finger prints, right next to our start and stop buttons that we use to operate the machine, you also see a little bit on the start button."

A spokesperson for Safeway's parent company, Albertsons, questioned the photos saying they "appear to our bakery and safety experts to be stains left by decorating ingredients." The company provided pictures of what they say are smears of icing, strawberry glaze and red food coloring at two other Safeway bakeries.

Let's compare -- the company's pictures on the left, the former cake decorator's pictures from the Alamo Safeway on the right.

She tells us she saw firsthand the "sick coworker" bleeding, including an incident listed in the lawsuit from June 20 in which he "became extremely ill and emitted a large volume of bodily fluids, including vomit, blood, and saliva in the bakery." And she says she recorded the sick coworker that day.

She showed it on her phone: "That's a video of him dry heaving on the prep table."

Her lawsuit says, "Over the months from November 2017 through June 2018, (she) repeated her reports to managers ... that the Sick Co-Worker was ill while working and was disbursing bodily fluids in the bakery at the Alamo Safeway store. These managers did nothing to change the status quo."

"I wore multiple layers of gloves because I didn't want his germs," the cake decorator told Noyes. "I have a baby, I just didn't want any of that."

Her attorney, Greg Brock, says, "Humans make mistakes and managers do the wrong thing, and it looks to me like that's what happened here."

The company spokesperson declined to be interviewed, but sent statements that read in part, "The health and safety of our customers is of the utmost importance to us. While we take all public safety concerns very seriously, we dispute the claim of unsanitary conditions in the bakery."

But, the cake decorator alleges in her complaint, two managers told her "if the Sick Co-Worker had been working the night before, they wouldn't eat the donuts produced in the bakery."

Dan Noyes: "So they wouldn't eat the food because he was baking it."
Cake Decorator: "Yes, because--"
Dan Noyes: "Because of his bleeding and nausea."
Cake Decorator: "They knew. Yes."

The company counters, "Safeway management has never expressed concern about the safety of products prepared in the Alamo store's bakery and stands by their high quality."

After that interview -- and more than a month after the "sick coworker" went out on medical leave - the I-Team contacted Contra Costa County Health. They then sent inspectors, who gave the bakery passing marks. County Environmental Health Director Marilyn Underwood told us she found no reports of anyone getting sick from baked goods purchased from the Alamo Safeway during the time the cake decorator worked at the store. But, Underwood said in general, the health of food preparers is an important issue: "That's one of the most important things actually about preventing food borne illness is to make sure that people that are sick or having things, issues like this would not be interacting with food."

The cake decorator describes her time at the Alamo Safeway as a nightmare, and tells us she remained there only for her young family: "I knew I needed this job, it worked good with my schedule and I didn't know what else to do, I can't find another job that had those hours for me to be with my son."

In her lawsuit, the cake decorator claims managers retaliated against her, because of her complaints. The company says they won't comment on that allegation.

Full statements from Safeway:

The health and safety of our customers is of the utmost importance to Safeway. We can assure our customers that at no time did the Alamo store sell product that was unsafe for consumption, nor would we ever do so. While we take all public safety concerns very seriously, we dispute the claim of unsanitary conditions in the Alamo store's bakery. Red food coloring, glazes and gels are used daily in our bakeries. The photos you sent - never seen by Safeway before this week - appear to our bakery and safety experts to be stains left by these decorating ingredients. (For example, see the attached photos taken today in the bakeries at two Safeway stores that show similar red spots. Those spots were made by icing, strawberry glaze and red food coloring.)

Further, contrary to the former employee's allegations, Safeway management has never expressed concern about the safety of products prepared in the Alamo store's bakery and stands by their high quality. While privacy laws prevent us from discussing the health of individual employees, we would never require or allow an employee to work when doing so would be unsafe for that employee, his/her co-workers, or our customers.

Safeway has policies and procedures in place to assure food safety. We meet all statutory and regulatory requirements for quality and food safety, and we have regular internal and external food safety audits to maintain sanitary and cleanliness of store conditions. The Alamo store, including its bakery, has a history of passing health inspections at the highest level, including its most recent bakery inspection on August 27.


Take a look at more investigations by Dan Noyes and the I-Team here.
Related Topics:
I-Teamhealthconsumerconsumer concernssafewaylawsuitsafetybusinessAlamo
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