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 Port Jefferson, 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 Port Jefferson Patch, we collected data on 35 markets in the Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station area, ranging from major chain supermarkets to smaller meat or seafood shops, pharmacies and convenience stores. And while sushi restaurants are inspected by the county, sushi stands located in grocery stores are inspected by the state.
RELATED: 5 Things You Should Know About Grocery Inspections
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 a heath risk, and "critical deficiencies" that pose a real hazard to customers. One critical violation and the market fails inspection.
How Port Jefferson Scored
Of all the markets in town, Uncle Giuseppe's on Route 112 had by far the worst record for health inspections in 2012, failing inspection twice. In its last inspection, the grocer was slapped with five critical violations and 51 general violations, putting it in a league of its own in Port Jefferson. In fact, the market has failed three of the four inspections it's had since opening in 2010.
RELATED: Uncle Giuseppe's Fails 2 Health Inspections in 2012
Smaller grocery Kayla Express Store did not fail inspections in 2012, but did fail its most recent inspection in January for not having a two- or three-bay sink for sanitizing equipment. The same went for Dollar Tree, which passed in 2012 but this January failed its inspection for dented cans. In fact, inspectors had to destroy 20 pounds of cans at that store that were dented at the seams.
When it came to general deficiencies, the Bravo Supermarket in Port Jefferson Station had the most with 24 violations, mostly related to problems with its hand washing equipment, dust and workers eating food in certain areas and not wearing hair coverings. Upper Main Deli and Grocery had 18 general deficiencies including citations for mold and dirty surfaces. So did Pathmark, with 18 violations including one for heavy frost buildup in the reach-in freezer.
Guintas Meat Farms had 17 violations, including ones for dust and a single live fly, as did esteemed local bakery La Bonne Boulangerie, whose 17 deficiencies included a citation for an employee pocketbook that was stored in a frosting area. All of these deficiencies are not considered a risk to anyone's health.
As for the cleanest stores in the area, hot sauce retailer Pepperheads had only one general deficiency, though it hasn't seen an inspector since 2004. For a more recent example, the Sunoco station at 669 Old Town Road had only 3 violations.
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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