Hey Bloomberg- What Happened to Inspecting Grocers?

Recently, I came out of a job with a gourmet grocer, where I learned a disturbing tid-bit: NYC does not inspect groceries for City sanitary conditions.

Now, I’ve got a Food Handlers certification from NYC- the conditions for any food service establishment are pretty strict. Absolutely no rice, milk or meat left at room temperature, for example, and very exacting storage conditions, all pretty smart stuff for keeping our international city safe from the rogue zombie apocalypse. Many gourmet grocers feature cooked foods sections, as well as lunch items and even seating areas- all things a cafe or restaurant offers. Shouldn’t they be subject to the same rules?

Imagine my surprise when my boss asked me to leave some food items out on the counter, at room temperature, completely exposed to the elements.

“Uh.. boss, you can’t do that.”

“Why not? I’ve seen every grocer do it.”

“It’s rice, and it’s cheese. They’re afraid of botulism.” Not to mention, unprotected by a display case, and left at an optimum 60-70 degree danger zone for every rogue bug. We ended up doing it my way, small victory for me, but that was the tip of the iceberg. Within days, I began to notice other, what would have been serious violations in a restaurant or cafe: meat, produce, and cooked foods stored willy-nilly on top of each other. Pastries, whole sandwiches, even cheesecakes were left out at room temp, basically petri dishes for every flu carrier who used the counter. That got me asking questions, which led to my discovery: NYC grocers are not inspected by NYC, they’re inspected by the state- at far lower sanitary conditions, it seems.

I did some digging.  In August 2011, the Department of Consumer Affairs did a comprehensive raid, revealing 60% of the City’s grocers and supermarkets in violation of consumer protections. Their response? The Grocery SHOP act, basically a severe penalty system leveraging 10 times the previous fee on violations. In October, Bloomberg News uncovered a shocking private inspection industry that led to millions sick from unsanitary, improperly inspected foods, some in NYC. One Oklahoma man died from blood poisoning.

Cut to 2012: I found an article claiming Mayor Bloomberg wanted to conduct city inspections of grocers; but hold everything! I was just working for a grocer, who claimed to be following state regulations! Those same regulations allowed for dangerous practices not allowed for the city’s restaurants. What gives? According to the article, the city’s inspectors are enforcing state law, not City law, when it comes to groceries: basically, Bloomberg was doing their job for them, and reaping all the fines therein.

In practical terms, that means: No graded inspection stickers. No protection from harmful bacteria or aerial transmission of viruses.

Mayor Bloomberg: Allow me to ask you, what is the point of accumulating state fines when they make no change to the businesses in our back yards? Is it simply to swell the city’s coffers? Please make grocers subject to city sanitation law as soon as humanly possible.

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