Many Brooklyn grocery stores and bodegas are plagued with rats, mice, roaches and grime, and might even pose a health risk, 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, whose inspection grades from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are famously hung in establishment windows, this data is only available if you request it from the state.
In order to keep locals informed, we collected data on hundreds of markets in our footprint, which included chain supermarkets, grocery stores, bodegas, butchers, fishmongers, pharmacies and convenience stores in Park Slope, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Carroll Gardens, Ditmas Park, Windsor Terrace-Kensington, Fort Greene and Prospect Park. If you're interested in seeing the public data on a grocery elsewhere in the state, you can search the map.
In the data you’ll find a host of gnarly violations, including dried sewage near a drain in the Met Foods in Cobble Hill, roaches crawling out of a deli slicer at Monumental Grocery in Ditmas Park or mouse droppings in snacks at a Walgreens in Flatbush. However, a bad inspection doesn’t necessarily mean you should write off your go-to bodega. Inspections very rarely turn up nothing, especially in New York City, where insect and rodent issues are far more common than in the suburbs.
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Results in the map are from store's latest food safety inspection as of Jan. 30, and violations are either listed as "general deficiencies," which inspectors say did not present a health risk, and "critical deficiencies" that pose a real hazard to customers. One critical violation and the market fails inspection.
How Brooklyn Scored
When it came to neighborhoods in our Patch markets, Windsor Terrace-Kensington by far had the highest percentage of issues at area groceries. Of the 150 markets we analyzed, 22 of them failed their most recent inspections and 47 failed at least one inspection in 2012. Out of those, 13 markets saw inspectors seize and destroy products, including rodent-defiled or decomposed food. For example, inspectors removed nearly 57 packages of almonds from the Bangla Bazzar Super Market that were infested with beetles and moths
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On the other hand, Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the largest neighborhoods Patch covers In Brooklyn, also saw a high amount of markets fall below state standards. Of the 522 businesses we analyzed, 30 failed their most recent inspection and 87 markets failed at least one inspection in 2012. In most cases, vermin such as mice were responsible for the failures, a critical issue that plagues many markets in New York City.
In 10 cases, inspectors seized food, including rice and beans from Stay Fresh Grill that had been stored at an unsafe temperature for too long, inspectors said.
Picturesque Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill also saw their share of issues, though in no cases did inspectors have to seize any food. Of the 117 markets we looked at, 11 failed their last inspection and 24 failed at least once in 2012. The Smith Street Met Foods store had perhaps the most issues, with more than a dozen inspection failures going back to 1999, often due to mice, cockroaches or filthy equipment such as saws in its meat room.
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In another small neighborhood, Ditmas Park, 10 markets failed their most recent inspections out of the 128 we analyzed, and 22 failed at least one inspection in 2012. Four markets also recorded product seizures, including the Pimentel Grocery Store on Church Avenue, where inspectors had to destroy 14 pounds of moth-infested popcorn.
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In Fort Greene-Clinton Hill, 11 markets failed their most recent inspection and 28 failed at least once in 2012. That’s out of the 98 businesses we probed. Three markets had product seizures, including the Redfan Deli Grocery on Fultan Street, where four pounds of mouse-defiled Purina Puppy Chow and nine rusted and leaky cans of tomato sauce were destroyed by inspectors.
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Meanwhile, our smallest neighborhood, Prospect Heights had four markets fail their most recent inspection and six fail at least once in 2012 out of the 25 markets we looked at. Only one market, Diones Grocery on Underhill Avenue, was slapped with a seizure when inspectors found 24 pounds of insect-infested brown rice.
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As for the cleanest neighborhood when it came to local food shops, Park Slope stood out in the data. Out of the 103 markets whose inspection reports we analyzed, only failed its most recent inspection and eight failed at least once in 2012. At the same time, none of these shops saw inspectors seize their product in their last visit.
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 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 report a foodborne illness in New York City by calling 311.
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