Nearly 100 retail food stores on Long Island have been cited by the state in the past year for 1,050 inspection violations, including critical deficiencies that could lead to foodborne illnesses.
The food safety division of the Department of Agriculture & Markets handed out 146 critical violations and 904 noncritical violations during inspections between May 15, 2014, and June 5 to 98 establishments such as convenience stores, bodegas, grocery stores and supermarkets on Long Island, according to the agency's most recent data. The department said it conducted inspections of 2,588 food retailers on the Island from June 2014 to May. One critical violation constitutes a failing inspection.
Among the most common violations were 65 citations for improperly installed or maintained hand-washing facilities, and 52 for improperly designed, constructed or maintained food equipment. These violations are "noncritical" since they do not directly cause foodborne illness.
"Bacterial contamination caused by unsanitary conditions such as poor food handling and storage of food at low temperatures is more of a safety issue for consumers," said Dr. Gail Kaden, an assistant adjunct professor of health professions at Hofstra University. Contaminated food can cause salmonella, listeria and even hepatitis A, she said.
Some of the most serious violations found in stores were 25 for insect, rodent, bird or vermin activity likely to result in product contamination; two violations for rodent-defiled foods or ingredients; and two for insect-infested foods or ingredients. Those are "critical" violations because they could lead to foodborne illnesses.
There is a "yuck factor" to such violations, and "there are diseases you can get from rodents," Kaden said. "But it's potentially more dangerous to pick up bacteria if food is not stored or handled properly."
Food inspectors from the agriculture department inspect retail food stores unannounced at least once a year. Inspectors also make visits prompted by complaints.
Javier Deli Grocery, at 243 Broadway Greenlawn in Huntington, had 21 violations, including four considered critical, the most of any of the food retailers in the recent period. The store, inspected on May 28, was cited for inadequate employee hand-washing facilities, contact surfaces not properly sanitized and potentially hazardous hot foods being kept below 135 degrees, among other violations.
The inspector "was in a bad mood," said Javier Deli owner Francisco Villaran, adding he addressed all the violations. "I am happy he only put 21, because he could have put 50 or 1,000. It's like a cop giving tickets because he had a bad day, while another cop can let you off with a warning."
The location with the second-most violations was Best Yet Market, at 434 Jerusalem Ave. in Hicksville, with 20 from its March 19 inspection, including two critical ones, including insect, rodent, bird or vermin activity. Company officials for the Bethpage-based, family-owned supermarket chain did not respond to requests for comment.
Third was Foodtown, listed in the department's database by its former name, Met Food, at 520 S. Broadway in Hicksville, with 19 violations from its April 30 inspection, including two critical ones related to food equipment. Ferreira Foodtown of Hicksville is part of the Foodtown supermarket cooperative of 63 independently owned grocery stores.
"We immediately addressed everything," Hicksville Foodtown manager Jason Ferreira said. "Our customers are always complimenting how clean the store is. I invite anyone to come see for themselves."
The state requires stores to post the date and results of the most recent inspection at each entrance. The agency conducts re-inspections within 60 days, a spokeswoman said.
"When the information is right in front, that has a direct impact, instead of having the consumer taking one more step by looking it up," said Nanda Viswanathan, assistant dean at Farmingdale State College's School of Business. "The targeted market is not one who looks at those kinds of things. For a restaurant, for example, people would look at a Yelp rating."
TIPS FOR CONSUMERS
* Employees should wear gloves when handling food.
* Employees with long hair should have it tied up or in a hair net.
* The establishment's bathroom should be clean and have soap.
* Display cases should feel cold to the touch so that food is properly refrigerated.
* Raw food should not touch cooked food.
* Check expiration dates for items like milk and yogurt.
Source: Dr. Gail Kaden, an assistant adjunct professor of health professions at Hofstra University