CONROE, Texas – A fast food restaurant in Conroe has re-opened after a week-long closure to retrain workers about food safety.
It comes after the KHOU 11 News I-Team uncovered allegations from ex-employees who said the restaurant was selling spoiled food to customers.
One of those former workers is Toisha Corpuz. She was grateful when the KFC on North Loop 336 West in Conroe hired her despite her criminal record. But Corpuz said one day she noticed something.
“It stinks really bad,” Corpuz recalled. She said the stench came from the restaurant’s kitchen and especially its walk-in cooler.
“It just smelled. When you walked in there, it took your breath away,” Corpuz said.
She said the smell came from the raw chicken stored in boxes inside the restaurant’s cooler. She also claims things got worse when workers took the chicken out.
“I almost threw up back there when the cooks opened the bags,” Corpuz said.
She says the poultry was spoiled, but that it was still fried and made available for sale to the public.
“You’re a mother, would you want your kids eating that stuff?” the 11 News I-Team asked Corpuz.
“Absolutely not,” she replied.
Corpuz and other workers said despite a KFC policy that raw poultry must be used within 10 days of being killed, chicken as old as 16 days was still cooked and served.
“I had no choice,” explained Corpuz. “I had to take care of my children. I had to have a job.”
Eventually, she said she had her husband call in a complaint to Montgomery County Environment Health Services that the KFC was selling spoiled chicken. Records show it took five days before a health inspector showed up at the Conroe KFC.
“We had just sold the last two cases of spoiled chicken,” said Corpuz.
However, the inspector did confirm a “foul odor in back of kitchen and walk-in cooler.”
The 11 News I-Team spoke to other current and former workers at the KFC, including Robert Garrett.
“You knew it was unsafe?” asked the I-Team.
“I knew it was unsafe,” admitted Garrett.
Like Corpuz, he remembered the smell of the expired chicken, comparing it to “expired trash that hasn’t been taken out for awhile.”
Garrett also claimed that raw chicken 16 days past its kill date was cooked and sold anyway.
“There would be times I would know that food that was going out the window or to the public sitting down, that it wasn’t any good and it just makes you sick to your stomach,” said Garrett.
Food safety expert Sarah Klein with the Center for Science in the Public Interest reviewed the allegations.
”We rarely hear this kind of really egregious and deliberate misuse of product and putting public health at such risk,” said Klein.
She said there’s a good reason for KFC’s 10-day limit.
“Things like E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter are very common in poultry,” explained Klein. “So the longer it sits in a refrigerator, the more the bacteria have time to grow and multiply.”
Klein said then not even cooking may make the expired meat safe to eat. She also pointed out something else.
“Whether or not you kill the bacteria through cooking, that meat is still rotting,” said Klein. “So consumers are basically eating fried, rotted meat.”
We took the workers’ allegations to Michael Batts, manager of the Conroe KFC. Batts referred our questions to the restaurant’s owner.
But did he know his restaurant was allegedly serving expired chicken? Corpuz claimed she taped a phone conversation with Batts, her manager, last March.
Corpuz: Sorry to bother you. Hey, we got 22 cases of bad chicken back there.
Corpuz: Um, because they’re out of date. Some of them, I think nine of them, went out today and five of them went out yesterday.
Manager: Okay, well cook what you can of it. Change the date on it where it will all go out tomorrow or something, OK?
Corpuz: OK...Just cook as much as possible.
Manager: Cook as much as possible of it.
Corpuz: And change the dates on the rest, OK.
Manager: Don’t cook it OK?
Corpuz: Don’t cook too much, is what you’re saying?
Manager: Do what?
Corpuz: What did you just say?
Manager: I said of course if it’s bad, don’t cook it.
Manager: But if you can cook it...
Corpuz: OK, bye. Yes sir.
Manager: Don’t cook a whole bunch extra, but you can cook a little extra.
Tem-Kil, Inc. owns the Conroe KFC along with 33 other restaurants in Texas. An executive there declined an on-camera interview. In a statement, the company insisted they are committed to the highest standards of food safety and said Tem-Kil has taken action to ensure high quality and safety at the restaurant.
The national headquarters of KFC also declined to speak on-camera. But a spokesman said in a statement that nothing is more important to KFC than food safety. KFC also said that because of our report, the company started an investigation of the Conroe restaurant and shut down the restaurant for a week so the entire staff could receive additional food safety training.
The director of the Montgomery County Consumer Health Department also declined our repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, Michael Lindsey insisted that his department responded to the March complaint about the sale of spoiled chicken in a timely manner.
Health inspectors visited the restaurant last week after it reopened. They did not find any food safety violations.
Corpuz was fired from the KFC in June for not performing work to her employer’s standards. She contends the restaurant’s claim about her was unfounded, as was her dismissal.
As for Robert Garrett, he left his job at the KFC in late May. He said one of the reasons he quit was because of concerns about food safety.
The I-Team is not aware of any similar allegations against any other KFC in the Houston area.