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Dirty Dining: How clean are local grocery stores?

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. –  Health inspectors regularly inspect central Indiana restaurants to ensure the facilities are in line with food safety regulations. Did you know grocery stores are held to the same standards?

The Dirty Dining team looked into what health departments do to evaluate supermarkets and found some stores failed multiple inspections.

The grocery store inspection process

Big chain grocery stores and small food marts are inspected about every four months, while restaurants face routine inspections every four to six months.

There are more things to look at during a grocery store inspection, according to Derek Trackwell from the Marion County Health Department.  Inspectors measure temperatures in every cooler inside the store , including the refrigerated food section, open air coolers and coolers in the back used for storage. Many supermarkets also include prepared food areas like a sushi counter or sandwich station. Inspectors are required to assess those areas, too.

“A regular fast food restaurant, you’re looking at 45 minutes to an hour for an inspection,” Trackwell said. “As opposed to going into a Whole Foods, let’s say, you’re looking at probably two or three times that. You could be in there for three hours.”

Unlike a restaurant, sometimes only part of a grocery store –one department – is shut down due to severe violations.

“Most of the time, it’s not every single department that’s not in compliance,” Trackwell said.

Dirty conditions behind the counter and in the back storage rooms can bring home major problems. I analyzed inspection reports and the finds at some grocery stores are alarming. With so much food in one place, bacteria can quickly spread.

“You could look at contamination of the product and that contamination going over to the customer as well,” Trackwell said.

Failed inspections

Several grocery stores ended up on the citations list in the last few months. We visited some of the locations that faced fines from health inspectors.

Reports show the Marsh, located at 1960 E. Greyhound Pass in Carmel, had some issues at the end of 2016. An inspector found 46 critical and non-critical violations in December, compared to just two violations during that time in 2015. The grocery store had the most violations out of all restaurants and grocery stores in Hamilton County, according to a list that shows violations for November and December 2016.

The inspector’s report states employees in the deli were not aware of proper hand-washing procedures, temperature control or proper cleaning. The report also says employees were told to clean every piece of equipment because they were so dirty. A sewage smell was noted in the deli area and the fish department walk-in cooler was dirty.

FOX59 spoke to the manager on duty at the store. He said they had some changes in management and “a little lull.”

A spokesperson for Marsh said the company takes food service very seriously and all of the issues, except for one violation, have now been fixed.

A follow up inspection on Jan. 19 shows the store’s violations decreased to six.

Next, we stopped by Eden Asian Grocery, located on Madison Avenue in Indianapolis.  The Marion County Health Department fined the store $500 on December 20, 2016. The inspector reports finding a large package of meat thawing in a pool of blood, cutting boards soiled with blood and a freezer covered with blood due to lack of cleaning.

The owner was not at the store, so we talked to him on the phone. He said they have been working to address the issues the inspector found.  The owner’s wife showed us around the store, including the back room to show us their progress. Eden Asian Grocery Store passed a follow up inspection on Jan. 4, 2017.

Finally, we checked in on Family Dollar, 3021 W. Washington Street in Indianapolis. This business is considered a grocery store because of all the pre-packaged food it sells.  The ongoing problems at this location date back to November 2016. Since then, the store has been fined by the health department three times – a total of $1550. More critical violations were found during a follow up inspection on Jan. 3, 2017. The manager at the store did not want to show us around.

The Family Dollar corporate spokesperson sent us this statement: “We take situations like this very seriously. We have been working directly with the health inspector and pest control services to resolve the issue."

The Marion County Health Department is now taking the store to court to get the fines paid. They also want to see a long-term solution put in place to get the store up to code.

Grocery stores doing well

While some grocery stores are getting a failing grade from inspectors, others are meeting all health standards.

The Meijer on Mercantile Boulevard in Noblesville has gone more than two years without any critical violations. Inspectors only found one critical violation at the Marsh on West Tenth Street in Indianapolis since July 2015.

No reported critical violations have been found at the Kroger on Rockville Road in Indianapolis since Nov. 2015.

A list of Hamilton County inspections from November and December can be found here: hamilton-county-inspections