While mold, insects, rats and dust may sound like we're listing plagues, these are actually common violations found in supermarkets and grocery stores across Long Island, including Riverhead, state data show.
Patch has pulled together information on grocery store inspections across New York state to create our exclusive interactive map, culled from public data supplied by the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets. Unlike restaurants, which are inspected by the Suffolk County Department of Health, grocers in town are inspected by this state agency.
For Riverhead Patch, we collected data on 58 markets in the area, ranging from major chain supermarkets to smaller meat or seafood shops, pharmacies and convenience stores.
In the data above you find results of a store's latest food safety inspection as of Jan. 30, and the location's past performance. Violations are either listed as "general deficiencies," which inspectors say did not present an immediate health risk, and "critical deficiencies" that pose a real hazard to customers. One critical violation and the market fails inspection.
How Riverhead Scored
While the bulk of local stores passed with few issues, a few have run up against inspectors in recent months. For example, Green Earth Natural Foods on Main Street in Riverhead failed inspections twice in 2012 for not having hot water in certain sinks in the store, or not having a sink at all in the food service area. However, inspectors also flagged the local market for selling home-produced tomato sauce.
On the other hand, JD Grocery and Deli failed its November 2012 inspection after state workers found and seized nearly five pounds of cornmeal that was infested with beetles. That market was also slapped with 17 general violations for issues including dirty shelves and floors, live flies and a few dead cockroaches.
Other failures included the 1172 Grocery, which was flagged after inspectors found tuna salad for sale that had too high of an internal temperature, and Garden of Eve Farmstand, which failed for not having a handwashing sink in a corn roasting area. And while the 421 Grocery, Mexico Lindo, Gingerbread University and the Riverhead Supermarket and Deli all passed their most recent inspection, each failed at least once in 2012 for issues ranging from cockroaches and dirty cutting boards at 421 Grocery to not having a handwashing sink at Gingerbread University.
When it game to general deficiencies that health inspectors do not consider to be health risks, Riverhead Supermarket and Deli had the most with 23, ranging from dirty walls and shelves and soiled food ingredient containers to workers not wearing hair coverings.
Mae's Market was hit with 21 of these general violations as well, also related to store cleanliness. The same went for the Super Stop & Shop: 21 general deficiencies for soiled surfaces, a dirty oven door, open garbage bags in the deli and other issues related to dirt and grime.
When it came to the cleanest stores in town, the 99 Cent Store, Schmidt's farmstand and Costco each passed without a single issue.
See the full results in the map above.
According to the state, there were 110 inspectors on the state’s payroll in 2012 responsible for about 31,000 retail food stores and around 6,200 food warehouses, wineries and other processors. Delis are included in the department’s inspections if 50 percent or less of their business is selling ready-to-eat food.
"They are our eyes and ears behind the scenes," said Robert Gravani, a professor at Cornell University who trains state inspectors.
Inspectors show up unannounced, and can spend as little as hour or more than a day inspecting a store, said Stephen Stich, Director of Food Safety and Inspection at the department.
The Inspection System
In 29 percent of the 30,372 retail food store inspections conducted statewide in 2012, the inspector found one or more problems that could make customers sick, Patch’s analysis of public records shows.
If an inspector finds a serious hazard to food safety, the store fails the inspection. Our analysis found more than 5,300 stores across the state failed an inspection last year, and more than 1,100 stores failed more than once. The department can fine the store up to $600 for the first critical deficiency, and double that amount for any more critical problems.
The department does more than just hand out fines. Sometimes, inspectors supervise supermarket employees as they correct violations on the spot, such as sanitizing dirty deli slicers, Stich said. Inspectors also hold in-store trainings to educate employees on the importance of food safety.
"These companies want to do things right," Gravani said. "Sometimes they fall down. That’s why you have a regulatory system."
Shoppers should call state inspectors with complaints about their local supermarket, such as spoiled food, Stich said.
You can reach the Long Island and NYC regional office, located in Brooklyn, at 718-722-2876.
But if you think food from the supermarket made you sick, contact your local health department, Stich said.
You can reach the Suffolk County Health Department at 631-854-0000.
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