Fancy food possibly ain’t safe food: Pennsylvania Whole Foods edition

Sam Wood of writes that shoppers once chose supermarkets for convenience, cost, customer service and quick checkouts.

whole.foodsBut a recent study found 83 percent of consumers pick only retail outlets that look clean to them, according to supermarket guru Phil Lempert. A full third of the people he surveyed have turned around and fled stores that seemed less than pristine.

The Inquirer, as part of its Clean Plates project, examined two years of health department reports for large grocers in Philadelphia and Bucks County.

And though each inspection is said to be only “a snapshot in time,” some chains are more photogenic than others.

At the top of the list for cleanliness were Wegman’s and Aldi, each with near immaculate records and very few violations per inspection.

At the bottom were Shop N Bag, Fresh Grocer, and, perhaps surprisingly given its reputation for high prices, Whole Foods. Each of the chains had at least four times as many infractions (noted per inspection) as Wegman’s.

To determine the rankings, we added up the number of infractions found by the health departments and divided that by the number of inspections.

Wegman’s averaged 1.8 violations per inspection while Shop N Bag topped out at 10.

In general, most violations were corrected on the spot before the inspector left the store and the transgressions were minor, ranging from insufficient hot water to missing thermometers in refrigerated cases. Evidence of mice, both dead and alive, was also a commonly cited problem.

At Whole Foods in the city’s Fairmount section, inspectors in January found mouse droppings throughout the rear storage area. Food samples were being offered without the protection of a sneeze guard covering the food, as required. At the South Street branch last week several food items were found to be improperly refrigerated and a dead mouse was discovered in a trap in a bakery cabinet. Two more expired rodents were found in snap traps there in late November.

Mouse-droppings-in-airing-cupboardA spokeswoman said mice were more likely to be attracted to Whole Foods because the markets carry more prepared foods and fresh perishable items than others. Just as customers are drawn to those specialty items, mice are lured by the increased trash and compost created as a byproduct.

“Whenever issues are discovered, like those in Philadelphia, we take immediate action to fix the situation and provide our customers with the service and quality they expect,” said Whole Foods spokeswoman Robin Rehfield Kelly.

“Making food safe costs money,” said Donald W. Schaffner, food safety expert and a professor of microbiology at Rutgers University. “If you’re an upscale chain, you know your customers demand it. It comes through diligence and staffing.”

Schaffner said he wasn’t surprised that Wegman’s came out on top or that the others didn’t do as well.

Blaine Forkell, senior vice president of Wegman’s Pennsylvania division, said each store has a dedicated food safety coordinator and every employee, including the cashiers, receives at least an hour of food safety training.

“We don’t put profit ahead of food safety and we ask our employees to make it personal,” Marra said. “It’s an everyday way of doing business. It’s an everyday expectation from our stores.”

D.C. Target’s grocery area shut down after health violations, including rodent droppings

D.C. residents who like to do their grocery shopping at Target need to find another place to purchase their food for now.

rat.droppingsThe D.C. Department of Health suspended the retailer’s license at its Columbia Heights store after it failed a health inspection Thursday afternoon. Inspectors found a number of violations throughout the store, including rodent droppings in the back storage area, according to Ivan Torres, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Health.

The fresh grocery area of the store and the pizza cafe, which serves hot prepared food, are closed. All other parts of the store are still open.

“At Target, food safety and quality are a top priority,” a Target spokesman wrote in an email. “We take this issue very seriously and are working with officials to address any concerns as quickly as possible.”

‘At least you didn’t eat all of it’ UK takeaway serves pizza with poison mouse droppings

The owner of a Plymouth, U.K. takeaway has been banned for life from serving food to the public after admitting selling a pizza contaminated with poisoned mouse droppings.

Judge Paul Darlow told Pervez Alvi (right, Plymouth Herald), "I would dearly like to hit you in the pocket" after hearing that investigating the case had cost Plymouth City Council more than £5,400.

But he imposed what he called "token costs" of £500 because of the "terrible" state of Alvi’s finances.

Prosecutor Julia Cox told Plymouth Crown Court that on March 20, 2010, a woman bought a pizza from Favourite Pizza as a treat for her son, who had just come out of hospital.

But as they ate it, they noticed "a strange chemical taste", which turned out to be caused by mouse droppings containing rodent poison.

The woman phoned the shop and Alvi called to see her, commenting: "At least you didn’t eat all of it."

He offered her £30 for the return of the pizza, but she refused and called Environmental Health.

Blue-green pellet-shaped objects in the pizza base were found to be mouse-droppings.
Inspectors attended the premises and immediately found mouse excrement in many areas, including on packaging materials and baking trays.

They also found gnawed cardboard and a hole in the skirting, while paperwork was incomplete.

He was told to clean and disinfect the premises and employ a pest controller, and next day things had greatly improved.

But a later visit found cracked tiles, a dirty hob and floor, and more mouse droppings under stainless-steel food-preparation surfaces and near a food chiller.

Rhode Island sushi restaurant closes; mouse droppings in flour, diapers in kitchen, 8 people sick

Uncle Sushi and Grill in Cranston has shut down after health inspectors found mouse droppings and evidence that a baby’s diapers were being changed in the kitchen, among other violations.

Felice Freyer of Projo reports the inspection took place on Monday when health officials learned that eight people who ate at the restaurant on May 19 became ill with vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps.

Based on the symptoms, the illnesses were probably caused by norovirus, said Health Department spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth. All employees were asked for stool samples, and so far three have tested positive for norovirus, she said.

Although the owner, Thong Den Vongvixay, closed the restaurant voluntarily, the Health Department issued a compliance order to make sure that he does not reopen until all violations are corrected, Beardsworth said.

Among the key violations that inspectors found:

• mouse droppings were found in flour, jimmies and noodles and on the doilies on which sushi is served.;
• vinegar was being stored in container previously used for laundry detergent.;
• rice was kept at room temperature in a turned-off cooker;
• the restaurant does not employ a full-time manager certified in food safety
• scooters, toys, powder and wipes were found in the kitchen area, suggesting that a child was allowed in the kitchen area and diapers were changed there.