Sam Wang Produce

More details are emerging regarding Sam Wang Produce, for which Councilman Vincent Orange lobbied city inspectors in an attempt to prevent the health department shutting it down recently.  Recently closed for numerous health violations, including a rodent infestation so sever it posed a danger to public health, Sam Wang produce has a history of health department issues.

In one case we’ve found, health department officials apparently allowed Sam Wang Produce to operate without proper licensing.  Compliance with health regulations is especially important for a large wholesale food supplier like Sam Wang Produce, which supplies restaurants and markets, as well at the public, with food products for consumption.  Health violations at large wholesale grocery stores can potentially have a much larger impact than violations at a neighborhood corner store.

On March 8, 2010, inspectors arrived and cited Sam Wang for operating without a public health food establishment license, although they possessed a general business license, which allows sale of general, non-food products not requiring regular health inspections.  A public health food establishment license is required for all grocery stores, restaurants, and other establishments under the purview of the Department of Health.   Despite being unlicensed for the sale of produce and other foods requiring a health inspection, the Department of Health allowed them to continue operating, with a note that they must get a license within 5 days:

Sam Wang license note

When health officials responded to the store 11 days later, Sam Wang Produce still didn’t have a license to operate as a food establishment.  According to the inspector’s notes, Sam Wang Produce blamed it on a “move by Dept of (Consumer and) Regulatory Affairs,” the DC agency responsible for licensing businesses:

Sam Wang License 2

This DCist post covering DCRA’s move to their new building indicates that they didn’t close until Friday March 19 to allow extra time for the agency to move to its new digs.

The same week of Sam Wang’s inspection, the city shuttered a restaurant on 14th Street NW for a single violation: “Operating a food establishment without a valid license issued by the Mayor.”  Two days later, the restaurant had secured its license at DCRA and reopened.  It’s unclear what role, if any, DCRA’s move had to play in Sam Wang Produce business not obtaining proper licensing during the same time, nor why Sam Wang Produce wasn’t met with the same regulatory fervor dished out to others.

Up until July 2012, the Department of Health placed a list of establishment closures and suspensions online.  Records show the city has immediately closed many other establishments for operating without proper licenses, so we’re left to wonder why Sam Wang Produce got so many breaks, especially considering the potentially large impact of any hazards inside a wholesale grocery store that sells to restaurants, markets, as well as the public.

Despite Sam Wang Produce not being licensed to sell grocery and produce items for some time, the Department of Health allowed the business to continue selling such items for public consumption.  The next recorded Department of Health follow-up inspection occurred over a year later, and they had proper licensing by that time.

Here are the licenses listed in DCRA’s system for Sam Wang Produce at 300 Morse Street:

Address License # Desc License Detail Start Expiration Licensee
39900609 Public Health Food Establish Grocery Store

69004486 General Business General Business Licenses 6/1/2011 5/31/2013 S.W. PRODUCE, INC.

70102205 Public Health Food Establish Grocery Store 3/1/2012 2/28/2014 S.W. PRODUCE, INC.


While there appears to be a large gap in the grocery store license for that location, the latest license may be a renewal of a previous license, and only the current license period is displayed.  (we’ve reached out to DCRA to help clarify this, and will update when we hear back)

However, we do know that the business was not licensed properly at the time of these inspections and for some reason the Department of Health allowed them to continue operating for some time, giving an initial 5-day grace period, then an extra 5-day extension 11 days later, and didn’t record a follow-up inspection until over a year later. 

No mention of any potential councilmember involvement in this case.