In three cities scattered across Washington state last weekend, workers in Safeway grocery stores made identical, startling discoveries.
While unloading shipments of bananas meant for their produce sections, they instead uncovered large brown bags of cocaine.
In total, law enforcement seized 56 kilos of the white, powdery drug from beneath the bananas, valued at nearly $1.4 million, authorities said.
The surprise discoveries in three stores within such a short window prompted all 144 Safeway chains in the state to take inventory of their banana boxes in search of more drugs.
Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office, said it was a strange experience to watch the back-to-back-to-back reports roll in, particularly because he said he had never seen so much cocaine seized at once.
The first report came through a Sunday morning call to police from a Safeway in the small coastal city of Bellingham, Washington, about 20 miles from the Canadian border. Store employees thought they had found sacks of sugar in the middle of the fruit piles, Abbott said. Then they realized it was actually cocaine.
Next came a Safeway 80 miles south in Woodinville, a town outside Seattle, where two workers from the produce section found two boxes of square brown bricks in the middle of their bananas. They sliced them open, then called 911, Abbott said.
The last discovery occurred at a store 40 miles south in Federal Way. Same story line. Same ending.
Now all three local law enforcement agencies, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, are investigating where the drugs came from - and what their intended destination might have been.
What they know so far is that all three banana shipments were processed through the same central warehouse in Auburn, Washington, just outside Federal Way.
It’s likely, Abbott said, that the drugs were brought into Washington across state lines or international borders.
“That’s all unknown at this time,” Abbott said.
It’s common for drug smugglers to disguise their shipments among fruits and vegetables to get them from place to place without detection.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection discovered four tons of packaged marijuana hidden within a shipment of jalapeño peppers at a San Diego port of entry. The shipment was valued at $2.3 million, according to law enforcement.
In the past, CBP officers have found marijuana hidden in buckets of frozen mango pulp and stuffed inside fresh coconuts. In 2016, they discovered packages of cocaine concealed in 217 tubs of spicy salsa.
Officers have even seized thousands of pounds of marijuana bundled into little green balls made to look like key limes and elongated in carrot-shaped cones that were wrapped in orange tape.