Rats and roaches are running wild through some Brooklyn grocery stores, and politicians want them monitored and quickly shut down.
Rats are twice as likely to be found chewing through Brooklyn’s grocery stores, compared to state as a whole, Patch’s analysis of state inspection records shows. Inspectors noted rodent-defiled food during 162 inspections in Brooklyn in 2012, which concerns public health experts.
“I wouldn't want to sow anxiety, but there are good reasons that rodent infestation is a basis for failing inspection,” said Stephen Morse, a public health professor at Columbia University, by email. “The rodents can carry a number of infections that can be transmitted through contaminated food.”
The most common critical deficiency was “insect, rodent, bird, or vermin activity likely to result in product contamination,” which inspectors noted in more than 1,000 inspections in 2012, a rate 20 percent higher than the state as a whole.
Bodega cats or “other domestic animals,” which were found during more than 1,000 inspections in Brooklyn last year, might be good for catching rats, but are also a health hazard, experts said.
“Cats near ready-to-eat food would raise concerns for me,” said Barbara Kowalcyk, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University. The cats might carry toxoplasmosis, a parasite that can sicken everyone, but is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children, she said.
Two state legislators have introduced bills in 2013 that question the ability of inspectors to find and shut down these troubled stores.
“Cutbacks in State funding and staffing in the Department of Agriculture and Markets have led to increased concerns about the abilities of the Department’s safety inspectors to adequately monitor the nearly 30,000 food establishments in the state,” an Assembly bill sponsored by Vivian Cook, D-Jamaica, reads.
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Cook’s bill aims to create an advisory board on “food safety and inspection programs” that could recommend changes to state law.
The bill passed the Assembly in 2012 but was not taken up by the Senate.
Public payroll records show the department employed 110 inspectors in 2012, down from 115 on the payroll in 2010, making each inspector responsible for about 340 stores.
Patch’s analysis of state records shows the department may have employed as many as 139 inspectors 10 years ago. Department representatives were not able to confirm these numbers and declined to discuss staffing levels in detail.
Our analysis also found the number of inspections has declined by 19 percent from a peak of about 42,000 in 2008 to 34,000 in 2012. A department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on this statistic.
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In the Senate, Jeff Klein, D-Bronx/Westchester, has introduced a bill that aims to tighten enforcement, by requiring a three-strikes approach, but appears to say the state’s inspection budget is adequate.
“Since 2000, the department has hired additional inspectors and is inspecting supermarkets more frequently,” the bill reads. “But far too many stores are still being allowed to fail four or more inspections before being closed down.”
More than 30 stores in New York City failed four or more inspections in 2012, but had not closed their doors, Patch’s analysis of state records shows.
Despite repeated requests over several weeks, Senator Klein was not available for comment, and the Department of Agriculture and Markets declined to provide a detailed budget.