Health Department closed a grocery store after finding a major infestation, including rodents in egg and produce crates. A city councilman intervenes, and the grocery store reopens with a clean bill of health in less than 24 hours.

Health Department closed a grocery store after finding a major infestation, including rodents in egg and produce boxes. A city councilman intervenes, and the grocery store reopens with a clean bill of health in less than 24 hours.

UPDATE: Councilmember Orange has admitted he intervened in this matter to assist a constituent. 

After you read this, we also have a new post on Orange’s campaign contributions.

A tipster states that city health officials recently closed local grocery store Sam Wang Produce (located in an unrenovated warehouse in Union Market) after a horrid health inspection. We obtained a copy of the Department of Health’s inspection report to verify, and found something even more shocking.

During the Friday morning inspection, the inspector found many disgusting conditions, including a rodent infestation so severe that the health department immediately closed the establishment. Rodent droppings were in cartons and crates of food, and cartons of eggs had even been chewed through by rodents. After a supervisor informed the dirty business that it must close, an unnamed city councilman appeared at the business in just minutes in an apparent attempt to keep it open.

Following an inspection that revealed numerous dangers to public health, a health department supervisor responded to the scene. When the supervisor didn’t relent, the Councilman demanded the supervisor’s boss’ name, as well as the supervisor’s boss’ boss’ name. The situation escalated all the way to the Director of the Department of Health, who sided with the inspector on the public health hazard.

Councilmembers Brown, Mendelson, and McDuffie attend a December 21 Economic Development meeting. Missing: Councilmember Orange.

Councilmembers Brown, Mendelson, and McDuffie attend a December 21 Economic Development meeting. Missing: Councilmember Orange.

We don’t yet have confirmation on which councilman showed up to lobby for selling rodent dropping-contaminated food to DC residents, but we suspect it might be Councilman Orange. There exists a close link between Sam Wang’s owners and Councilman Orange, who received at least $19,000 from them in recent years in the form of donations to campaigns and constituent service funds. In addition, Orange wasn’t present at a scheduledmeeting of the Economic Development Committee, which started at 10:30am that day, around the time the health department was performing their inspection.

From the inspector’s notes:

After the Area Supervisor, Mrs. Jacqueline Coleman, informed the establishment’s person in charge/owner that a summary suspension for rodent infestation would be issued and the establishment is required to close immediately, a District of Columbia City Councilmember appeared in the establishment’s office within twenty-two (22) minutes and began speaking with the Area Supervisor without having identified himself. The City Councilmember asked for the Area Supervisor’s boss’ name, she provided it then informed him that he has already been contacted. She further informed him that the Program Manager was on the way to the establishment.

The Program Manager arrived within thirteen (13) minutes and discussed the situation with the City Councilmember who then asked for the Program Manager’s boss’ name. The Program Manager was unable to contact the Deputy Director of HRLA and informed the City Councilmember that he was leaving and the final decision was up to the Deputy Director. No reports were left with the establishment’s management.

After the Program Manager discussed the situation with the Deputy Director and Director, they determined that the establishment should be closed. We returned to the establishment, provided a copy of the inspection report which was signed by the person in charge, placed a “FOOD ESTABLISHMENT CLOSURE NOTICE” outside the establishment, and informed them that they must close immediately. They were further informed that prior to reinstatement of the license. the establishment must pay a re-inspection fee, correct all outstanding violations, and provide a corrective plan of action for rodent abatement

As noted above, the establishment was told it must correct all outstanding health violations prior to being allowed to reopen. Below is a list of infractions found on the December 21 visit:

1. – No Certified Food Protection Manager is on duty.
2. – The establishment does not have an employee health policy for the prevention of foodborne illness. I provided the person in charge with a copy of the DC Food Code employee referral, reporting agreement, and interview forms.
3. – The establishment does not have an employee health policy regarding the prevention of foodborne illness.
8. – There is no soap at the handwashing sink near the 3-compartment sink. (Corrected On Site)
8. – There are no paper towels at the handwashing sink near the 3-compartment sink. (Corrected On Site)
8. – There is no handwashing signage at the the handwashing sink at the 3-compartment sink. (Corrected On Site)
13. – Raw shell eggs are stored on top of a case of green peppers in the walk-in refrigerator. (Corrected On Site)
14. – Moisture, pooled water, and food debris are on the walk-in refrigerator floors. Ice has accumulated on the walk-in freezer floor.
34. – There is no thermometer in the walk-in freezer.
34. – The dial thermometers outside the walk-in refrigerators are out of order.
36. – Numerous rodent droppings are on the floor, in cartons, and in crates in various locations throughout the storage room. Egg shell cartons have been chewed into in the storage room.
51. – There is no covered receptacle in the toilet room.
51. – The toilet room doors are not self-closing.
53. – Wet wooden pallets are on the floor in various walk-in refrigerators.
53. – Cans of paint are stored on the shelves outside the office. Tires, two (2) lawn mowers, two (2) weed trimmers, and a scale are stored throughout the establishment.
53. – The toilet room handwashing sink is not secured to the wall.

The following day, Saturday December 22, health inspectors arrived again to reinspect the establishment to consider it for reopening. According to the inspectors’ second report, the establishment told the inspector it was no longer selling eggs or processing fruits/vegetables, and the inspector didn’t see any new signs of vermin in the newly-cleaned establishment.

However, the inspectors notes that the grocery store still didn’t have a certified food manager on site and still had broken thermometers. Curiously, section 1 is marked “in compliance” even though the inspection notes there is no on-site manager certified in safe food handling. No mention of any city councilors on site, either.

Following this inspection with no critical violations officially cited, the grocery store was allowed to reopen.

We’ve reached out to DC Council staff for comment to try and identify the unnamed city councilor and get a comment- no word yet.

Of note, Office of Campaign Finance records show the Choi family (owners of Sam Wang Produce) and Sang Oh, Inc. have been heavy donors to Councilman Vincent Orange’s campaigns and constituent funds, donating at least a combined $4000 for his 2012 campaign, and a combined $13,000 to his 2006 mayoral run, as well as at leat $2000 to his constituent service fund.

Sam Wang Produce, after the health department cleared it to repopen (Photo by WUSA-9/Russ Ptacek)

Sam Wang Produce, after the health department cleared it to repopen (Photo by WUSA-9/Russ Ptacek)

UPDATE: A reader wrote in that WUSA-9’s Russ Ptacek visited Sam Wang after the health department cleared it to re-open. In his online slideshow, he notes, “When we approached the warehouse, two rats ran right in front of us. The establishment passed a health department re-inspection and reopened prior to our visit. Chewed egg cartons, rodent droppings on the floor, in creates and cartons.”

 

This post is the result of a reader tip.  If you have a tip, let us know at titan@titanoftrinidad.com, or snitch anonymously using our online tip form.