Woman drinks sour milk in front of boss to prove she didn't spoil dairy products by heating walk-in cooler to 99 degrees

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I worked at an ice cream stand that had a huge walk-in cooler in the back room. While we kept the frozen ice cream in a dozen or so chest freezers scattered between the basement and the outdoor sheds, we kept the bags of milk and cream we used for soft-serve in the walk-in cooler.

Several times per week, the cooling element for the walk-in cooler would freeze over, preventing the cold air from circulating and keeping the dairy products cold. The solution was to go downstairs to the basement, remove the correct circular fuse from the fuse box, and allow the ice to melt before replacing the fuse. That always got everything back on track for a day or two.

On a hot July day, with the cooler frozen over, as usual, I went downstairs, cut off the electricity to the cooler, and accidentally left the walk-in cooler with no cold air overnight. When I walked into work the following morning and checked on the cooler, my heart sank. It was as hot as a windowless room in the middle of July because that's exactly what it was without the benefit of electricity.

The bags of milk and cream were warm to the touch, like a heated waterbed mattress. I checked the thermometer hanging on the wall of the cooler. It read 99 degrees Fahrenheit. That was at least 60 degrees too high.

I couldn't tell my boss because I knew he would be furious. Who could blame him? So I did the next best thing. I replaced the fuse in a hurry and prayed the cooler would cool down enough to mask my mistake before anyone else showed up at the ice cream stand and pointed out the cooler seemed a bit less cool than usual.

It worked at first. The cooler was almost passably cool before anyone else walked in, and no one mentioned the slightly warm feel of the bags of milk and cream we mixed with food coloring and artificial flavoring in buckets and poured into our soft serve machines.

Three days later, it was a different story. "Some workers are saying the bags of milk in the cooler have spoiled," the business owner told me. "Why don't you go check it out and let me know what you think?"

With an audience of my boss and several of his other employees, I made a big show of checking the temperature of the cooler before pouring a cup of milk and sniffing it. "Smells fine to me," I proclaimed.

It was a lie. The milk smelled slightly sour.

"Taste it," someone suggested.

With a perfect poker face, I drank the whole cup of milk. "I don't taste anything wrong," I said. It was another lie, but if I admitted the dairy had gone bad then I'd have to explain how it had happed. "It's fine."

The boss nodded. "That's good enough for me," he said. "Keep using the milk."

What would you have done?

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