MANHATTAN (PIX11) – Filthy food, disgusting floors – and what’s going on in the basement?
From the fanciest organic markets to the tiniest corner delis, state inspectors visit every food seller at least once a year. And for the thousands of failing markets, they will continue to be re-inspected, and fined, until they clean up their act.
Most shoppers focus on prices while grocery shopping when they should also be thinking about poison, as in food poisoning.
Tainted food is known to cause more than 200 diseases. Every year, 48 million people are sickened from food-borne illnesses, 130,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
Much of those illnesses is caused by food bought at a local market that’s abused, mishandled or comes into contact with critters that carry disease.
- Resources: Read your store's failing inspection report (Follow the link and select item No. 15)
State inspectors make at least one unannounced inspection each year, and what they find could help keep your family safe. The advice from Westchester County’s Department of health Assistant Commissioner?
“Look, the best thing is not to shop there,” Peter DeLucia said.
Customers can’t get behind the scenes to see how grocers are abusing their food – but inspectors can.
PIX11 News requested reports on every failing store in the five boroughs – all 5,000 pages of them. Poring over the pages, we looked at the best-known chains, and found the worst violations.
The Gristedes chain is so popular in New York, shoppers have made its owner a billionaire. So why is the chain throwing away food?
Inspectors demanded they do so during some of the 12 failing inspections during a one-year period.
At their West 86th Street store, 673 pounds of food had to be destroyed, including meat, cheese, vegetable and macaroni salad, smoked salmon, sliced fruit and sausages, all because they were being held at dangerous temperatures that can make customers sick.
They even failed a follow-up inspection when pasta was found infested with insect larvae and had to be destroyed. Dead insects were found in the pasta aisle, a dead mouse and dead flies were found in the bakery, and smoked salmon and herring had to be destroyed, again for being held at unsafe temperatures.
The store was allowed to stay open and pay a fine of $1,800. But PIX11’s undercover cameras found a chiller case filled with yogurt at the unsafe temperate of 50 degrees. It should read 41 or less.
We reached out to Gristedes headquarters for an explanation into the failures, but they never responded to our requests.
Moving to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, and the C-Town Chain.
They had 25 failing inspections at their stores during the one-year period New York State provided us reports for. One of the nastiest findings by investigators: mouse and rat droppings. And C-Town wins for having more than any other chain: a jaw-dropping, disgusting number of 10,565 mouse droppings.
At their 16th Street store in Brooklyn, one customer complained they were sickened by bad Brie cheese. Inspectors responded and found a bulging spoiled ham they destroyed for being dangerous for customers, mold-covered walls in the produce area, flies buzzing there and in the deli, and nearly 1,200 more pounds of potentially dangerous food that has to be destroyed on the spot.
Among that dangerous food that needed to be destroyed was 800 pounds of eggs and orange juice held at unsafe temperatures.
We wanted to know how things went so wrong at the independently owned store, and asked for the manager.
While workers laughed off the violations and our repeated calls to the store garnered no answers, shoppers did not find anything funny about the failed inspections.
“I think it’s really bad. They don’t really care. They’re just trying to get rid of their products,” said customer Jessica Egalite.
“It’s not fair to the community at all because at the end of the day, people are gonna go buy their food and the feed their children and it’s not fair,” another customer, Candace Mekoba, said.
And she has it right. Too often, the poorer neighborhoods are served by only one local market.
Food sanitation expert DeLucia points out, those single markets are subject to a single annual inspection, a fine of a few hundred dollars is the cost of doing business and there’s no real impetus to clean up their act.