Fancy food ain’t safe food: esteemed New York markets fined for failing safety inspections

Foodies may hail Whole Foods in White Plains and H Mart in Hartsdale, but last year state inspectors failed both, giving them the region’s biggest fines for food safety violations.

The specialty markets, beloved by some shoppers for their vast aisles of organic and ethnic foods, were cited last year for improperly cleaned meat grinders and excessively WHOLEFOODS01scored cutting boards — critical violations that contributed to each store receiving fines of $3,000, state records obtained by The Journal News show.

The stores are among 1,495 establishments in Putnam, Rockland and Westchester visited over the past five years by inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, the agency that regulates retailers selling and preparing food.

No matter how clean a store might appear to shoppers, state inspection records show that most venues end up with some kind of violation, usually for minor issues. State law requires that supermarkets be inspected annually.

“Ninety-seven percent of the larger supermarkets in (the) three-county area have passed our most recent inspection, which means there were no critical deficiencies,” said Steve Stich, director of food safety and inspection at the Department of Agriculture & Markets.

The state agency has about 95 inspectors who conduct more than 30,000 annual inspections statewide at all the food establishments and wholesale food manufacturers that hold state permits. The Journal News obtained dataon five years of inspections through a Freedom of Information Law request.

1 sick; cheese recalled from Whole Foods in Pennsylvania

The Allegheny County Health Department and Whole Foods Market announce that Jean Perrin Edel de Cleron cheese sold in the East Liberty Whole Foods Market store is being recalled because some samples tested positive for listeria.

The recalled cheese was cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap with a Whole Foods Market scale label, and a code beginning with 293351. The recalled cheese was sold between May 20 and July 3, 2012.

One illness has been reported.

Whole Foods says Miami Beach has poop problem; store mess was promptly cleaned

Whole Foods has denied any wrongdoing after firing an employee who complained about poop in the cheese aisle at the Miami Beach store.

Libba from Whole Foods Market took to the Eater blog to say:

“Here are the facts regarding the plumbing issue: that area of Miami Beach has problems with pipes backing up during high tide when there’s been significant rainfall. The backup in our store equated to about an inch of water that encompassed about a three-foot span over one of the drains. The entire area was closed for complete cleaning as soon as the problem was discovered, and was cleaned and sanitized again the next day by a professional cleaning service.

“When it happened again the same professional cleaners were back at the store in less than 24 hours and the entire area was sanitized again.

“At all times, the areas of the store open to customers were clean and safe."

Whole Foods sucks at food safety, so I look forward to disclosure in the lawsuit filed on behalf of the former employee by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Whole Foods sued by feds for firing Miami Beach poop leak whistle blower

On Nov. 1, 2009, the smell in the Miami Beach Whole Foods super-stinky cheese aisle reached a new level of pungency as raw sewage covered the floor.

Despite the efforts of Whole Foods management to view the situation through rose-scented glasses, and a lot of air freshener, raw sewage is neither an aromatic nor safety enhancement.

Miami New Times Blogs reported at the time that an unnamed employee said after brown-colored and rank smelling water flooded the cheese aisle she discovered that a sewage line had broken. After local management decided to just lock the bathroom doors and cover the mess with air spray, she reported the incident to corporate management.

She got fired.

Now, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suing the chain for firing the employee.

OSHA is asking the federal court to remedy the situation by issuing an order that includes a permanent injunction against Whole Foods to prevent future violations of this law; reinstating the former employee with full benefits; paying back wages, punitive damages and compensatory damages to the employee; expunging the employee’s personnel file with respect to the matters at issue in this case; and granting any other appropriate relief.

Whole Foods still sucks at food safety; so does a Toronto newspaper and Cooks Illustrated

In the latest installment of Whole Foods Market has terrible food safety advice — blaming consumers for getting sick, selling raw milk in some stores, offering up fairytales about organic and natural foods – today’s grilling tip is that “chicken that is cooked enough will feel springy when pressed. If you’re uncertain, cut into the thickest part of one piece. The meat should still be juicy, but the juices should be clear, never reddish.”

Color is a lousy indicator.

Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail has gotten into the trend of using someone with what appears to be an Australian accent to flog food but seems to skimp on the food safety.

Stephen Alexander, owner of Cumbrae Meats, says in a video  that, “cooking a burger to medium is totally fine as long as you start with good quality fresh ground meat.”

I don’t know what medium means. How is good quality defined, by bacterial counts? And where’s the thermometer, the same one Alexander uses when cooking chicken on the grill but that Whole Foods doesn’t know exists.

Cook’s Illustrated likes its burgers “juicy and rosy throughout.” 

Blessed are the cheesemakers: feds arrest cheese that sickened 38

An outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 first became public in Nov. 2010, and would eventually sicken at least 38 people in several U.S. states. Investigators believe the source was Dutch Style Gouda Cheese produced by Bravo Farms of Traver, California from raw milk and sold primarily at Costco and Whole Foods Market stores.

The artisan cheese maker temporarily shut down.

Bravo was forced to quarantined stockpiles of cheese, and — no real surprise – of the 24 unpasteurized cheese samples investigators took, 15 tested positive for listeria and one tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.

According to the L.A. Times today, state and federal investigators found at least 50 live flies flitting around a processing area at Bravo. They also reported that a rabbit hopped out of a storage room, and a dairy worker scratched his chin then handled milled cheese with his bare hands.

On Thursday, U.S. marshals and Food and Drug Administration agents arrived at the cheesemaker and seized the Gouda, along with piles of Edam and blocks of white cheddar. All told, investigators have locked up more than 80,000 pounds of cheese. Prosecutors say it is all headed for the garbage disposal.

Worried that the cheese would somehow reach the public, and acting to shift the case from state to federal jurisdiction, the Justice Department used a civil legal mechanism to arrest a product — food — and essentially impound it.

Prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court in Sacramento last week that lists the cheese — not the farmers who made it — as defendants.

John Sheehan, director of the FDA’s dairy division, said the inspections came from concerns "about raw-milk cheese made under artisanal conditions" and a flurry of nine artisan cheese recalls last year. As of October, the FDA had inspected 102 facilities, some big, some small. Of the 147 samples taken, 32 tested positive for listeria. The inspections continue.

Bravo, which is cooperating with federal officials, has been cleared to make cheese again. It’s using pasteurized milk.

Food safety silliness from Fox

Fox News does lots of dumb things. Reprinting food safety nosestretchers from is a public health liability.

Among the top 10 food safety tips – which are primarily lifestyle choices, not food safety – is that people should avoid buying ground beef at Whole Foods “unless you watch them grind it.”

Whole Foods sucks at food safety, but how the writer got groovy E. coli goggles to see bacteria beyond the horoscope-level of superstition is worthy of scientific investigation.

Fantastical food safety tales is some web site that has published fantastical food safety tales over the years.

A correspondent from Tampa Bay writes that, “by pledging to only use wholesome, organic foods … the chance of foodborne illness is lessened as you are buying from a trusted source. Buy organic when possible – Markets such as Whole Foods and your local farmers market are good sources for quality earth-grown produce."

Whole Foods sucks at food safety. Organic is a production standard that has nothing to do with food safety. Enjoy the Armstrong and Miller Farmer’s Market. 

Sally Jackson wraps up her cheesecloths after 8 sick with E. coli

Shed no crocodile tears for Sally Jackson and her E. coli O157:H7 contaminated cheese.

The infractions documented by U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors last week — after the recall and with inspectors knowingly present – would make anyone wonder why the fancy restaurants and retailers like Whole Foods would buy cheese made with crap. Sally Jackson and staff were seen to:

• Not wash and sanitize hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility after each absence from the work station and at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated. Specifically, the owner was observed throughout the day to altemately perform cheese making functions, such as stirring cheese curd with bare hands and wrapping cheese in grape leaves, with outside activities, such as milking/feeding livestock, without any hand washing being observed.

• Failure to provide handwashing facilities at each location in the plant where needed. Specifically, the approximately 10 inch diameter, shallow bowl handsink in the vestibule is too small for proper use, The sink drain pipe and water supply lines were disconnected.

• Failure to use water which is of adequate sanitary quality in food and on food-contact surfaces. Specifically, the well water supply for the facility is not currently in microbiological compliance. The most recent water analysis was unsatisfactory for total colifom as evidenced by a test report from 10/4/10 observed at the facility. The well has not been retested.

• Failure to clean non-food-contaet surfaces of equipment as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination. Specifically, the wood fixtures, walls and floors were generally soiled and stained with grime/dirt. The floors also showed an accumulation of manure, mud. straw.

• Suitable outer garments are not worn that protect against contamination of food, food contact surfaces, and food packaging materials. Specifically, the owner wore manure-soiled outer clothing during the production of cheese; handling utensils and direct handling of finished product. Owner was observed kneeling in fresh cow manure, while milking a cow outside, then brushed pants with a bare hand and was later observed standing over a bucket of drained curd in the cheese room with the soiled pants coming in to contact with the edge of the bucket.

This could be an exaggeration, but it sounds like Sally Jackson was making cheese while covered in cow shit. Guess it’s all-natural.

Nancy Leson of the Seattle Times reports that Jackson, the Oroville, Washington, cheesemaker whose name has been associated with some of Washington’s finest milk product for 30 years, will shut down her business, after the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that Jackson’s cheese, made from unpasteurized, raw milk, had sickened eight people in four states.

"My argument then was that I have never made anybody sick in 30 years," Jackson said. "That’s what breaks my heart now, that this is how it ended."

That’s a terrible argument, and one I hear routinely. E. coli O157:H7 has been known as a source of human illness for about 29 years, but only in the past 15 years have DNA fingerprinting techniques evolved so that outbreaks are more often linked to a specific food.

The results from the FDA inspection and the sick people also show the fallacies of such an argument.

But why hadn’t anyone noticed? Whole Foods sold – and is now recalling — Sally Jackson cheese from retail outlets in California, Nevada, Washington and Washington, D.C.

“The recalled cheese came from its supplier, Sally Jackson Cheese of Oroville, Wash and was cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap and sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label. Some labels also list Sally Jackson. The affected products are: cow, goat and sheep milk cheese; cow and sheep milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves; and goat milk cheese wrapped in grape leaves.”

Where were the Whole Foods safety auditors who approved Sally Jackson raw milk cheese on their shelves? Whole Foods sucks at food safety.

Whole Foods safety sucks but they care …

I bought a turkey yesterday for Thursday’s Thanksgiving food orgy – 15 pounds at $0.68 per pound at Dillions supermarket in Manhattan (Kansas).

We usually don’t go anywhere because the town is more serene with the students gone, and we host a dinner for various international stragglers with nowhere else to go.

At least I didn’t have to go to Whole Foods. Terrible food safety and so insufferable.

For the past couple of weeks, Whole Foods has been pushing their turkeys like some form of food porn crack, and repeating the following statements as mantra:

“No antibiotics — ever
No supplemental growth hormones*
No animal byproducts in feed

“*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones when raising poultry”

Whole Foods lets birds suffer if they are sick, and follows the law by not using hormones. Should sick animals be deprived antibiotics? Wouldn’t that go against animal welfare standards? I don’t see how this is the basis for an advertizing campaign. Federal regulators may want to have a look, seeing as they cracked down on Tyson’s BS claims that they didn’t use antibiotics in poultry production that no one else used.

Whole Foods does have a bunch of homespun tales about turkeys raised by farmers the way our grandparents did it. Apparently society has learned nothing about food production over the past 60 years.

Whole Foods also has a thing against modern technology like freezing, and says it only sells fresh birds – big cross-contamination problem

I bought fresh birds a couple of times in the 1990s, and concluded they were overpriced and sucked. Same with fresh pasta. Some things are meant to be preserved using technology.

But this marketing is aimed directly at the consumers’ pocketbook.

It just makes sense that the more care and time that goes into raising the turkeys, the more they will cost.”

Good for you if people will pay.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Whole Foods is also piloting a new humane meat-rating system in the South and scheduled for national expansion early next year. If the six-step, color-coded labeling system works as planned, it could allow American consumers at many supermarket chains unprecedented levels of specificity when it comes to choosing meat to match their principles.

I’d really like to be able to choose meat and other foods by levels of microbial contamination. American retailers will market anything to make a buck, but why not reward those producers, processors and retailers who consistently deliver food that doesn’t make people barf.

“Developed by the Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit group made up of farmers, scientists, retailers, sustainability experts and animal welfare advocates, the rating system aims to address growing consumer concerns over the way animals are raised for food. It could also, not coincidentally, boost sales for certified farmers and participating stores, likely to include another unidentified major national retailer and restaurant group in the coming year, according to the nonprofit.

“Its six-step approach establishes baseline standards for all meat sold in the store, while offering producers an opportunity to achieve higher ratings as their animal welfare standards improve based on the program’s benchmarks.

“So, for example, the highest rating (5+, colored green) would go to a chicken that, among other things, had been bred, hatched and raised on a single farm, lived year-round on pasture covered with at least 75 percent vegetation and had legs that were healthy enough to support it by the time it reached market weight.

“And the lowest rating (1, colored yellow) would reflect adherence to several dozen baseline provisions about feed, antibiotics and treatment, but also a provision that the animal must not have been caged or crowded.”

The Whole Foods folks could have learned something from those studying restaurant inspection disclosure and the use of colors or grading schemes. I also expect absolutely no verification that the system communicates to shoppers what was intended.

"We get an enormous amount of questions from customers who want to know everything about the meat and animals, really detailed questions," said Anne Malleau, global animal production and welfare coordinator for Whole Foods Market. But the program is also aimed at customers who don’t want the gory details so much as assurances that their "food has been humanely produced," Malleau said.

Although the company has no set formula for pricing GAP levels, it did share some examples from an Atlanta-area store that started rolling out the program in 2009. Grain-fed rib-eye steak rated a Step 1 costs $14.99 lb., while local grass-fed rib-eye, rated Step 4, costs $15.99 lb. And Canadian bone-in pork chops rated Step 1 cost $6.99 lb., while local bone-in pork chops rated Step 4 cost $7.99 lb.

Who pays that? And relying on auditors? You have heard of Peanut Corporation of America and DeCoster eggs and dozens of other outbreaks. Anne, who used to go to the University of Guelph and even hang out with the folks in my lab (above, right, exactly as shown) I want microbiologically safe food. That’s something I’d pay for.