Confessions of an Ex Smoothie Bar Employee Part 2

Finally the long awaited follow up to my original article is here! My friends have since told me that they were thoroughly shocked by my experience and even I still can’t believe the things I witnessed, despite actually being there in real life. However, the one thing I know for certain is that there is plenty more worrisome material where my first article came from.

Besides the pesticides and general uncleanliness of the fruit, there is a sticky, perhaps morally ambiguous, issue to contend with. This is the issue of added sugar. Have you ever tried to make smoothies at home and they just don’t taste the same? I know I have and it certainly never turns out tasting like a store-bought drink. I never knew what I was doing wrong until I learned their drink recipes. The secret is sugar. Lots of it. There are two types of sugar that were used: sugar boiled in water to make a thick syrup and plain regular crystal form sugar. These sugars were an integral part of each drink. So for every person coming from the gym and ordering a protein smoothie thinking they were being so healthy, they are actually sipping on a sugar-filled drink.

For each size of drink available, the sugar had a proportional ratio. There was some variation depending on fruits and other factors but for a small, it would be around 2.5 scoops of sugar, medium would be 3.5 scoops and for a large it would be 5 scoops. To this day I’m not sure how much each scoop contained but it was probably a little over a tablespoon. For the small drinks, the sugar intake doesn't seem too bad but a lot of athletes ordered the largest size available and I’m pretty sure that they were not aware they were downing close to a half cup of sugar.

Even the tapioca pearls for the bubble teas contained huge amounts of sugar. After the tapioca had finished boiling but was still hot, I estimate that about 12 oz. of sugar was added to sweeten the batch. After cooling the tapioca, roughly 6 oz. of sugar was placed into the bowl to ensure sweetness and no dilution of flavor since the tapioca was cooked well in advance. There were also flavored jellies and syrups available as add-ons that were bought from an external supplier and I’m 99% sure they contained high levels of sugar as well. With all the ways that sugar is sneaked into your drink, you might want to rethink adding extras to your order.

The only time we wouldn't include sugar is when the customer specifically asked us not to include it. But what about all those people who didn’t know about the added sugar? When I was a consumer, I know that I assumed that sugar wasn’t added because in my mind, fruit is already full of natural sugars. It seems counter-intuitive to add sugar to a thing that is already sweet but this is the reality of how many smoothie shops operate. This wouldn't be as big of a deal to me if there was a responsible sign on the front counter saying in bold letters, “sugar is used in the making of our drinks” or “ask us about a sugar-free option” but there isn’t one. Since many academic studies have shown links between consumption of sugar and a variety of serious diseases such as diabetes, tooth decay and obesity, you would think that the company should be accountable for misleading customers into thinking their product is healthier than it actually is.

The last secret I will divulge is that the business owner and managers weren’t all that responsible for the safety of the staff. This is extremely dangerous in a food preparation environment where there are lots of knives, hot surfaces, and boiling liquids. When I was hired, I was told I would have to read some policies and complete some training before starting my first day at work. This was not the case and they basically just said that they would tell me the policies later. No safety information was given to me to read and I just went off of what they told me to do.

Soon after I started work, a co-worker told me that when he first started, he had burned himself on his throat from the splatter of what I assumed was probably a hot liquid. I wasn’t too shocked at the time, even though it did seem like a bad burn since it left a dark scar. However, the shock came for me when closer to the end of June, I saw in an employee group chat that someone had significantly hurt themselves.

The employee was closing, meaning the floor had to be mopped with boiling water and Pine-Sol. They had slipped on the floor while carrying a large bin of boiling water and this caused him to spill the boiling water directly onto his feet. Even though he was wearing shoes, his feet were still badly burned, to the point where he could not stand, and he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Later, I believe he sent pictures to the group chat of his feet all wrapped up at the hospital and said that he would need plastic surgery.

Only after this serious accident is when the managers started enforcing the wearing of non-slip shoes. While this rule was technically “company policy” before the accident, the fact that the owner and managers didn’t enforce this rule is highly irresponsible. Had they ensured that everyone was wearing the proper footwear and performing each task in the safest way possible, this poor employee would not have had to go through so much pain. It is definitely part of the managers’ responsibility to ensure the safety of each employee. I consider myself very lucky that I was not seriously hurt in the short time that I was working there.

So in conclusion, I believe that I have learned a lot from my time as an employee at this shop but I definitely did not want to continue putting my health at risk by working there. To be honest, learning the secret to their drink recipes was the only reason I applied for the job and I’m thankful that I know better now. However, this experience has exposed me to the harsh realities and straight up unprofessionalism of the food industry. The only thing I can say is that I respect that the employees work in extremely difficult environments to make their money but I cannot respect the blatant disregard for the health and safety of employees and customers. For all my readers, I hope this exposé will help you make healthier choices for yourself and your family, as well as given you some insight into the absolute madness that is working in retail food-prep.