Sysco Corp., the country’s largest food distribution company, has agreed to pay nearly $20 million in restitution, costs and penalties to settle a lawsuit accusing it of improperly storing perishable foods, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

Ten district attorney’s offices in California, including Sonoma County’s, sued Sysco and its California affiliates in Santa Clara County Superior Court over charges it was holding perishable foods, including seafood, milk and raw meat, illegally in storage sheds that were unregistered or improperly refrigerated.

Sysco’s affiliates deliver food to restaurants, hotels and schools, using a fleet of refrigerated trucks. Last year, according to the District Attorney’s Office, a statewide investigation found Sysco was trucking some items to storage sheds where they were picked up later by employees who then made deliveries using their personal vehicles.

The investigation, conducted by the California Department of Public Health, identified 22 unregistered sites, many of which officials said were unsanitary or poorly refrigerated.

The complaint said such practices violated portions of the state health and safety code and that Sysco made false claims of having “state-of-the-art distribution warehouses.”

Sysco, which cooperated with the investigation, agreed to pay $15 million in civil penalties and more than $4 million in restitution, including a $1 million contribution to food banks throughout California. The company also agreed on a $3.3 million payment to fund a five-year statewide inspection and enforcement program.

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or