WRAL Investigates

WRAL Investigates: Providers violated food safety codes

Posted March 23, 2009
Updated March 24, 2009

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— Outbreaks of salmonella and recalls of food from stores, most recently associated with hundreds of products containing peanut butter, have raised concerns about the how safe foods are and about the measures in place to keep them safe.

Since Aug. 1, inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture’s Food and Drug Protection Division have written letters to 35 bakeries, grocery stores and food processors, including some locally, directing them to address problems, many of which posed serious health risks.

IGA dead mice State inspectors find food safety code violations

At an IGA at 2971 Wendell Blvd., in Wendell, for example, inspectors found 11 decomposing mice below a shelf displaying bread, bagged stuffing and ice cream cones and 10 others in a storage room, according to a March letter. It goes on to describe finding thousands of rodent droppings in the facility.

In another case, at a Lowe's Foods at 2900 Millbrook Road in Raleigh, inspectors seized more than 3,200 food items from shelves after finding hundreds of live and dead weevils on products, according to a September letter. At the same store in 2007, inspectors found rodent droppings on and inside boxes in a storage room.

At the Rite Aid at 1910 Falls Valley Drive in Raleigh, a peanut butter cup came out of the package with a worm on top of it. An inspector also found moth larvae on the retail shelves, according to an August letter. Twenty-seven packages of candy were seized for moth infestation.

Each company says it has since resolved its problems, though inspectors continue to work with IGA to make sure the problems do not occur again, its owner says. (View their responses to the inspection reports.)

Joe Reardon, director of the division, says the agency's goal is to inspect all grocery stores once a year.

With 27 inspectors, though, Reardon says it is a struggle to get to each of the 9,000 facilities they inspect on the schedule he’d like.

"Grocery stores – we'd like to be in every 12 months," Reardon said. "Many cases today, that's every 18 months. Many of the facilities we'd like to be in every six months – it's 9 or 12 before we get in there."

Last year, the department asked lawmakers for six more inspectors, but funding for the positions was denied.

For 2009-10, it is asking for five positions – two food inspectors, two chemists and one microbiologist. Because of state budget cuts, however, it's uncertain whether funding for the positions will be in next year's budget.

So, how safe is the food North Carolina consumers buy and use?

Ben Chapman, a food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, says it's a tough question to answer.

About 76 million people in the United States each year get food- or water-borne illnesses, Chapman says. He says enforcement, alone, will not make the public safer. Companies that deal with food and food products must be educated, too.

But he says the detective work to trace problems is certainly getting better.

"Ten years ago, we might not have seen as many solved outbreaks," he said. "But that's not to say there were less outbreaks."

Last year, state inspectors set off a nationwide recall when they found salmonella on jalapeños and avocados at a Charlotte produce company. They were looking for signs of salmonella on tomatoes from other states at the time.

Including the salmonella scares from jalapeños last year and the most recent scare involving peanut butter products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported six multi-state outbreaks of salmonella infections.


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  • Mom2two Mar 24, 2009

    "So, how safe is the food North Carolina consumers buy and use?"

    Apparently not very safe for the mice at IGA.

  • ThisIsMyName Mar 24, 2009

    Don't people check items for proper seal and expiration date before you purchase it?

  • ThisIsMyName Mar 24, 2009

    It's funny how some people think of those that make low wages as losers. I'm sure these are the people that make good money and expect there be a class of people to serve their needs.

  • Lab mom Mar 24, 2009

    Yuk!!!!! I agree, grocery stores should be rated like restaurants. I was going grocery shopping after work but I can't now!! Maybe tomorrow!!lol

  • FoolOnTheHill Mar 24, 2009

    Lemonchar - Why SHOULD they take pride in their work if they're not sufficiently compensated? Because it is their job! It is that kind of attitude that has them working in low paying jobs in the first place.

  • Con Amor Mar 24, 2009

    See no weevil, hear no weevil! We all know that rice and dry beans are FULL of weevil beetles. Any one without enough common sense to wash, and inspect food before eating it, deserves to get worms and weevils. LOL!

  • Southern Fried Yankee Mar 24, 2009

    You people DO know that the USFDA has rules about "acceptable levels" of all kinds of things from insect eggs to rodent hairs and worse that can be allowed in food....

    By the way, you DO know that "pure" tap water has dead bacteria in it...The chemicals or ozone don't get rid of their carcasses.

    If you think food and water is "pure" I have a bridge to sell you.

  • Bendal1 Mar 24, 2009

    Con Amor,

    You do realize that all grains and flour products have weevil eggs in them, don't you? If you don't believe me, buy some flour and let it sit for a while (a month or more). They'll hatch and you'll see them crawling around in the flour.

    I think the fact that food is found in the store with bugs/weevils inside the packaging indicates that it is really old stock that should have been replaced a long time ago.

  • Con Amor Mar 24, 2009

    If a package comes in, with rodants and insects in it. I hardly think that it is the stores fault. Yes, they can, and should have ways to rid their facilities of critters. But if a reeces cup has worms in it, then would'nt it have come that way from the factory, or the warehouse?

  • lemonchar Mar 24, 2009

    YES. Have you ever worked in a non-management food service job? When I was shift manager at my store I mostly did paperwork, and I had the luxury of sitting down occasionally. When I was on the line, I was on my feet constantly, avoiding hot oil burns and washing my hands every five seconds after I touched meat. Dealing with customers who treat you like crud, posting orders, cleaning, mopping the entire store, etc. for $6.15 an hour (in my day it was 5.15) is very hard work. $10 an hour for filing paperwork is a piece of cake compared to that.