Confessions of an Ex-Smoothie Bar Employee Part 1

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of your local fruit drink store? Have you ever thought about the insider knowledge that employees have gained while making your daily avocado smoothie? If you answered “yes”, then this will be a hard-hitting exposé for you and trust me, I’m spilling so many secrets that there will be a part two to this article!

As university or college students, we prioritize convenience over pretty much everything else. This is why shelling out tons of cash for “100% real fruit” juices and smoothies to save us from the hassle of making our own seems appealing. Most people would agree that these are healthy alternatives to carbonated or caffeinated beverages and, in some cases, beneficial to your health. This is totally understandable, however, after working at a chain bubble tea and smoothie store this past summer, I have encouraged all my friends and family to be more cautious about their consumption of these types of drinks. Now, I feel that it is my responsibility to inform you of the knowledge that I have gained as an employee.

*Please note that I will not disclose the name of the company that I worked for because I do not wish to attack them or their reputation nor am I interested in pursuing any legal action against them. This is an opinion piece based on my real personal experience and I do not necessarily represent the experiences of fruit beverage employees elsewhere.

The following is, perhaps, the most shocking discovery I made while working at the store. Imagine purchasing a $6 mango drink and expecting it to be the very definition of health. What if I told you that you were actually drinking a healthy dose of chemicals along with it? Your first thought probably isn’t “yum”. Often times, produce that is not certified organic has been grown using pesticides, insecticides, and/or other chemical agents. The company that I worked for did not claim to use organic fruit, but I know that most of their customers were under the impression that the fruit would be thoroughly washed before it was blended. However, this was not the case. In reality, fruit like strawberries and blueberries were rinsed for barely a few seconds while fruit that had to be prepared in some way, like mangoes and pineapple, were never washed! This might not seem like a big deal but I have seen firsthand how harmful the effects of the chemicals on fruit can be.

Shortly after I began working, I starting to experience itching and peeling on my right inner forearm and wrist area. It wasn’t too bad to begin with and I thought that it was a possible allergic reaction to a cleaning product. After all, I wasn’t allergic to any fruit and employees were required to spend a fair amount of time cleaning the work area by using chemical cleaners and bleach. However, about a week and a half later, the reaction still hadn’t gone away and I was starting to worry. Another week went by and I noticed that it was getting worse. By that time, it was so itchy that I had to scratch it and when I did, it would get hot, red and swell into welts. It was also spreading up to the back of my right hand and arm, and welts were beginning to appear on my left arm. After finishing my shifts, I would try all sorts of creams and allergy medicines to no avail. I was ready to book an appointment at the doctor’s when finally, I discovered the cause of my distress; it was the pesticides on the mangoes.

Allow me to explain further. In the time that I had worked at the store, the mango drink had proven to be their bestseller. The drink was so popular that any time that an employee was not working cash or making drinks, they were peeling and cutting mangoes. One day, it just so happened that a fellow employee who typically wore an arm sleeve, took it off to bleach some towels. As she did so, I noticed that there was a rash on her arm that mimicked mine exactly. I asked about it and the manager overheard then he revealed to us that it was a “mango rash”. He explained that although the source they buy from is responsible for the pre-washing of the mangoes, sometimes they are not washed properly and traces of pesticides were left on them. As employees peel and cut the mangoes, our arms are particularly exposed to these chemicals and the skin is susceptible to being irritated. To make matters worse, as I write this article (nearly two months post-resignation), I still have scarring in the form of dark marks all over my forearms.

This is a huge deal. Not just because the manager knew about the problem and was not enforcing any kind of protective measure, but also because the pesticide residue caused such a severe external reaction that I can’t imagine what kind of internal effects there are! Although customers did not have direct contact with the mango skins, we did not wash the fruit once it was peeled. It is highly likely that traces of pesticides were left on the actual fruit by coming into contact with the peeler and the gloves that were exposed to the mango skins. Because the fruit was not processed any other way before blending, there is no way the chemicals on the fruit disappeared before reaching a customer’s mouth.

In another incident relating to food cleanliness, I was told to dig pineapples out from behind the fridge. Usually pineapples were stored on top of the fridge and they would sometimes fall if enough force was used to open the fridge door. Like all less-frequently cleaned spaces, the back of the fridge was extremely dirty with rotting fruit and flies everywhere. That’s not even the disgusting part. Most of the pineapples removed from behind the fridge were rotting and they were thrown out, but there was one or two that had just fallen and seemed salvageable. So they were cut and put into containers but they had not been rinsed off! In the process of cutting away the external pineapple skin, the inside fruit was definitely exposed to the dirt and germs that lived behind the fridge. And when the de-scaled pineapple was cut up into smaller chunks, it was by using the same knife that came into contact with the outside skin, ensuring that each chunk was equally germ-y. Yuck!

So I don’t know about you, but I would not be willing to risk my health and spend my hard-earned money on fancy fruit drinks knowing that they could be contaminated like this. Had I not worked for this company, I would have no idea that their smoothies aren’t as healthy as they seem and that cleanliness is not one of their top priorities. Stay tuned for the second part of my confessions.

Sources: 1, 2