Whole Foods (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, 4:42 p.m. According to Assistant Berkeley Fire Chief Keith May, firefighters were dispatched to the store just after 1:15 p.m. for smoke in the building. They arrived at 1:22 p.m. and found that one of the lines to a refrigeration tank had broken, May said, sending a vapor cloud of carbon monoxide into the air, which set off the smoke alarms.

The store was evacuated. Firefighters were able to get the cause of the leak under control and shut down the related systems, then turned the scene over to Whole Foods and city Environmental Health staff at about 3:30 p.m.

“They have to figure out what the temperature of the food is after so many hours and if they have to discard it,” May said. “That we leave up to them.”

City of Berkeley Environmental Health workers will assess the refrigeration systems at Whole Foods before allowing any refrigerated items to be sold, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko on Friday afternoon.

“Refrigerated trucks have been deployed to the site to ensure that any food requiring refrigeration are kept at proper holding temperatures while the store’s refrigeration system is under repair,” he said by email. “The store is expecting to re-open at some point today. Environmental Health staff will verify that the proper temperatures are being maintained before the store will be allowed to sell refrigerated food.”

Whole Foods has not responded to multiple inquiries about the incident.

Original story: Multiple readers asked Berkeleyside on Friday afternoon why Whole Foods Market on Gilman Street in West Berkeley appeared to have been evacuated and closed.

“Why did the fire dept clear the store and parking lot at Whole Foods on Gilman this afternoon?” one reader wrote. “Parking lot is emptied, surrounded by fire trucks. What is going on?” wrote another. A reader initially asked about the incident just after 1:45 p.m.

We saw the same thing driving by – multiple trucks outside, everyone huddled in one (shady) corner of the parking lot…

— Sara Hinkley (@sara_hinkley) September 13, 2019

The Berkeley Fire Department said the incident is ongoing but that there had been a refrigerant leak at Whole Foods. BFD told Berkeleyside the store would be closed until further notice. Minimal details were available as the incident remains unresolved, officials said.

Other authorities told Berkeleyside there had been some type of major coolant or refrigerator system failure that had caused all refrigeration systems to go down. The city has called for environmental health to respond to the scene to address concerns related to food storage.

Berkeleyside has asked Whole Foods company representatives for an explanation. The business had not responded as of publication time.

No one answered the phone at the market on Gilman when Berkeleyside called Friday afternoon.

Stay tuned for further details.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...