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Hidden Dangers At The Market
A CBS 2 Investigation
May 11, 2002 11:10 am US/Eastern
(WCBS)
(NEW YORK)

Walk into the Citarella Market on Manhattan's Upper West Side and you can expect to find gourmet foods at upscale prices.  But what you might not find are critical health violations - four in the last year.  CBS 2 Anchor Dana Tyler shows you where to look for hidden dangers at your local supermarket.

Dozens of mouse droppings were recently found by inspectors and even a live mouse ran by while they were there, and customers would never know about it, says the legislator who wrote the new supermarket laws, because we couldn't find their violations posted as required by law.

Assemblyman Jeff Klein tells Tyler, "This is a very clean wholesome supermarket, the problem is all the violations  took place in areas that the public doesn't see."

At Citarella, they say they make concerted efforts to keep the store clean.  Our CBS 2 Investigation found dirty conditions in supermarkets all over New York City and the suburbs from huge warehouse supermarkets to corner bodegas.

At the Shoprite on East Sanford Boulevard in Mount Vernon there is blood dripping from packaged meat saturating a butcher case.  Just three months, state health inspectors destroyed dozens of pounds of chicken and pork on the spot, the meat was being held at unsafe temperatures and could make you sick.

"Our food supply is the safest provided it is handled properly and that is the caveat.  53% of New York City supermarkets failed at least one inspection in the last year.  About 40% of supermarkets in Westchester and Long Island also failed.  And often you wouldn't know there are health violations when you walk down the aisles," says Dr. David Nash, certified food protection specialist with the American Food Safety Institute, he adds there are several tell tale signs consumers should look out for.

"Overall sanitation is an indicator of how much they care, if they care about you as a customer and if they care about food safety, then they will make a good attempt to keep the place clean."

At Alex Deli Mini-Mart on Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn it was the dirty deli counter and debris lying about the floor that led us to look through the shelves and find the really disgusting conditions.

Rodent gnaw marks on containers of food, mouse droppings on almost every shelf and a live bug crawling around the inside of a bag of flour.

Klein says, "This is a supermarket that really cries out to be closed."

But even supermarkets that maintain excellent health inspection records can have trouble in-between inspector visits.  Associated Supermarket on Ninth Avenue and 58th Street received a clean bill of health on their most recent inspection in July.  But Dr. Nash says always check the dates.  On a visit last week he found eggs three days past their expiration date and refrigerated at temperatures higher than the legal limit of 41 degrees.

Dr. Nash says, "We call it first in first out, rotate your stock. Do not buy outdated foods, that is a big warning sign right there."

On a recent inspection of Compare Foods on Grand Street in Brooklyn, health inspectors ordered workers to dismantle a filthy meat grinder and clean it on the spot. Accumulating bacteria can make you sick.

Dr. Nash says very often you can peer over the counter, so if you see caked on, dried meat on grinders and slicers watch out.

He says, "The dirtier the grinder, the more contaminents are going to be in that ground meat."

And finally, supermarkets must post their current inspection record where you can see --it's the law.

So what should you do if your supermarket is routinely dirty? Experts agree you need to lodge a complaint if you see evidence of critical health violations like roaches, mice, the smell of spoiling meat and workers not wearing their gloves. You can e-mail the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets at info@agmkt.state.ny.us with your complaints, or you can call them at 518-457-3880. If you prefer, you can mail a letter of complaint to:

NYS Department of Agriculture And Markets 1 Winners Circle Albany, New York 12235

At a Thursday press conference Assemblyman Klein announced plans to introduce new legislation that would expand on reforms made in 2000. The new bill would take the existing "three strikes" rule and make it mandatory. Under the current rules, the state has the option of moving to revoke a supermarket's license after three consecutive inspection failures, but often chooses to wait longer.

Klein also released his own report titled "Still Enough to Make You Sick," here are the reports findings:

10 Worst Supermarkets and Retail Food Stores for 2002

  1. Food Center, 15127 St. Nicholas Ave, Manhattan CVS Pharmacy, 158 Bleeker St., Manhattan K-Ribe Grocery, 2220 Olinville Ave., Bronx Tony's Prime Meats, 3960 White Plains Rd., Bronx Trade Fair, 23-55 Broadway, Astoria Winmark, 42-19 Main Street, Flushing Alex Deli, 336 Central Ave, Brooklyn Family Deli, 803 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn Grand St. Express, 810 Grand Street, Brooklyn Palmetto Deli, 222 Palmetto St., Brooklyn

Worst Supermarkets of 1999 Are Most Improved in 2002

Fine Fare, 4776 Broadway, Manhattan Bravo, 640 Cortlandt Ave., Bronx C-Town, 1750 University Ave, Bronx Superior MArket, 4106 5th Ave., Brooklyn Associated, 552 Beach 25 St., Far Rockaway Convenient Food Mart, 732 Forest Ave, Staten Island Waldbaum's, 1441 Richmond Ave., Staten Island