Grocery Store Inspections: How Clean Is Your Store?
We all go to the grocery store, but how clean is the grocery store where you shop?
Like restaurants, all grocery stores are inspected, and so are those smaller food retail stores.
What you may not ever know is how your grocery store does in its health inspections.
Consumer Investigator Jennifer Kraus shows us how those scores could keep you and your family from getting sick.
"How are you doing today?" said health inspector Yvette Parks, introducing herself before conducting an inspection.
Twice a year, inspectors conduct surprise visits at all stores that sell food.
"You cannot sell this," Parks said because the item had mold on it.
Inspectors look for problems that can make consumers sick.
"They just need to clear the shelves back there," Parks said.
Inspectors not only look at store shelves, but they also check places most consumers can't go.
"I don't see a thermometer in here at all," Parks said.
And that's where they often find some of the biggest violations such as openings where mice and insects can enter and food stored at unsafe temperatures.
"Your fried chicken is 129.6," Parks said.
Grocery stores are scored much like restaurants when they're inspected. The big difference though is restaurant scores are posted for customers to see, while grocery scores are not.
"No customer should get anything like this," Parks said.
So that means when inspectors find things that can make people sick, potential customers have no idea.
Grocery store shopper Lannethia Bigsby remembered buying banana pudding that was gross.
"It was brownish. It was nasty, nasty," Bigsby said.
"When I ate it, it was molded all the way at the bottom," she said.
She said it made her sick.
Using a hidden camera, NewsChannel 5 found not only questionable pudding, but also moldy produce. NewsChannel 5 also found mislabeled packages of meat so if someone bought any of it, they would think they had more than a month to use it.
Health inspectors found many of the same things and more when they went in soon after the store for a failing score of 55.
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates found that's not all that unusual. After examining the state's inspection scores, NewsChannel 5 found dozens of stores repeatedly cited for putting customers' health at risk.
But because the way the law reads, the stores never had to post their failing scores.
"Scores are posted in restaurants. Why shouldn't people be able to have scores represented when they walk into a market?" said shopper Carol Frazier.
Shoppers such as Frazier said they ought to know when stores have problems.
But when NewsChannel 5 asked state regulators, they said stores only have to show their latest score to customers who ask.
"How many people, though, walk into a grocery store and ask the manager, ‘Can I see your inspection score?'" Kraus asked.
"Well, maybe no one, but maybe more that you're bringing it to their attention," said Jimmy Hopper of the state agriculture department.
Hopper said consumers can check grocery store scores if they want to on the state's Web site.
"How many people are going to do that?" Frazier said.
Posting scores in the stores makes more sense and may force stores to clean up their act.
"Y'all need to clean these fan guards," Parks said.
And it may also keep customers from getting sick.
"It's better to post it so when people walk in they can see it and they know if they're a 55 and they can walk back out the door," Bigsby said.
Earlier Thursday, inspectors went back out to the Shelby CeeBee market where NewsChannel 5 found all of those problems. Inspectors found six critical violations and the store yet again failed its inspection with a score of 59.
While this is a smaller market, NewsChannel 5 found it's not just mom and pop stores that have serious problems like this. We found at least one of the big supermarket chains has had ongoing trouble at one of its stores, too.
So what is it going to take to get these scores posted?
Lawmakers are going to have to change state law. And it's probably safe to say that the stores will fight to stop that.