A 9 Wants To Know Probe Identifies Food Risks At Businesses That Passed Health Inspections

11:43 PM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -  A 9 Wants to Know investigation raises serious questions about conditions at food businesses that inspectors reopened after closures for health violations, and D.C. officials won't respond to our findings.

We tracked five stores suspended, then reopened, by inspectors earlier this year that we had featured on previous broadcasts when we found food risks experts say could make customers sick.

Two of the establishments closed shortly after we broadcast our initial reports.

In April, shortly after we broadcast footage of rat under a trash dumpster at Mid City Deli near Logan Circle, inspectors returned and shut it down again. It hasn't reopened.

In Temple Hills, after we broadcast our report showing mouse droppings and a rodent chewed bag, Evergreen Supermarket closed its doors too.

So, we sent a producer into three open businesses that remain open where we'd found problem before: a Northwest supermarket, a Lanham pizza place, a Southeast D.C. convenience store, to see if they'd cleaned up.

Our first time at Circle 7 Express on Martin Luther King Avenue Southeast, we found outdated bologna.

Inspectors had closed Circle 7 twice for food dangers, citing rotten produce, live roaches, mice and outdated merchandise, including baby food,

Our follow-up in October had found outdated juice when the manager ordered us out.

The manager of Circle 7 shoved our camera, pushed our photographer, and ordered us to leave the store.

We got the a similar reaction at a pizza place in Lanham

Inspectors had shut down Pizzaness on Lanham Severn Rd., citing mouse droppings on the pizza roller and roaches throughout the restaurant.

In August, shortly after inspectors passed it and allowed it to reopen, we broadcast photos of dirty floors and insects we found.

Until this summer, Pizzaness had been operating as a franchise for a different chain, but is no longer associated with the brand.

When we came back two months later, we saw bugs again and photographed what an expert identified as a roach on the floor.

The manager demanded we leave, called the police, and went back to making pizza.

Prior to our first story about health violations at Avenue Market on New Hampshire Avenue NW, neighbor David Magee posted pictures of meat  on a blog; meat, he says, the market relabeled as fresh after it had expired.

Inspectors did close the store after his complaint, but allowed it to reopen after passing a re-inspection.

"It's disgusting," said David Magee, "Really, that's the most accurate word for it. It's disgusting."

When we returned in September, our investigation also found meat where one date mark had expired and another date label showed it was still ok to sell.

"Since the store hasn't done anything to change," Magee said, "The health department should do something."

City inspectors have closed the store twice since 2010 citing outdated meat, mice droppings, flies and operating without hot water, but allowed it to reopen after passing re-inspections.

In August, we first broadcast our story showing flies on meat, produce, and dairy racks and mice feces on the shelves.
In four visits over the past week weeks we found outdated meat each time, including cold cuts, ham hocks, fat back, and shoulder butt with what appears to be sell by dates as old as May.

The store manager asked us to leave.
We showed our photos to Consumer Federation of America food safety expert Chris Waldrop.

"That's a problem," Waldrop said. "It just raises questions. That means consumers are finding it. I'm not sure why inspectors aren't finding it."

Records show inspectors have been there five times since August, citing things like a floor needing cleaning, and crevices on cutting boards, but allowing the store to stay open - Not once reporting seeing the outdated meat we did.

"Sad," Magee said. "It's been a long time that it's been like this and nothing's changed."
Avenue is the only store in the neighborhood.
"The closest place isn't with walking distance," Magee said. "We have to take the bus, and that's like a 10 minute bus ride."

Avenue's manager wouldn't talk on camera, and for now, his store, Circle 7, and Pizzaness all remain in business.

When we contacted Prince George's County officials about what we found at Pizzaness, they said their inspectors would be returning to the store to see for themselves.

That's not the reaction we received from the District of Columbia Department of Health.

Although we told D.C. officials about the outdated products we found, records don't indicate the agency has responded in any way, and a spokeswoman said that because of Storm Sandy, they were too busy to answer our questions about public food safety.

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