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Long Beach, California

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John Bisnar
John Bisnar
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Appallingly unsanitary conditions at produce market

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is demanding that the county’s public health director come up with a long-term plan to ensure the sanitary operation of the Seventh Street Produce Market.

The market, where thousands of Southern California restaurants get their fruits and vegetables from, was the subject of a lengthy hidden-camera investigation by NBC4’s reporters Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg. Their report, which was aired in early February, revealed the most shocking truths.

The hidden camera footage showed rats scampering through the market, vendors urinating near the produce cartons, raw sewage gushing from an open pipe and splashing on to produce and workers leaving a restroom with no soap or hot water and then handling produce.

Several large restaurants, including International House of Pancakes (IHOP) and the Johnny Rockets chain, use produce from this market. An analysis of the produce from the market done by NBC found that it contained high levels of E. Coli, fecal bacteria and listeria.

This produce also goes to trendier restaurants such as Sushi of Naples in Pasadena and Long Beach as well as smaller eateries such as Pita Pita, also in Pasadena. Both restaurants have said they’ve stopped purchasing their produce from this market.

Johnny Rockets issued a statement right away that the company would no longer buy any of its fruits or vegetables from that market, but IHOP told the television station that workers thoroughly wash all produce before using it.

The investigation also found that health officials with the Los Angeles County Health Department, started cleaning up this mess only after they found out that NBC was out there looking into this matter. Health Department records show a history of violations at the market, but officials did nothing about it, Grover says in his report.

Here are some interesting words that came out of the health inspector’s mouth, which were captured by the hidden cameras.

“Inspector: We’re diligently enforcing, what we we’ve supposed to been doing all along.
Grover: The fact that NBC is coming kind of gave us a heads up, huh?” another person asked.
Inspector: Yeah.
Grover: Would you want to eat food from this place?” Grover asked Powell.
Inspector: I would have a definite concern about food emanating from this facility,” Powell replied.”

To put it mildly, this is appalling. I applaud the NBC4 affiliate for exposing these horrible conditions for everyone in Southern California to see. It only proves that if only we’re all able to see where our fruits and vegetables come from and how our food is prepared, we would hesitate to eat out at all and most if not all restaurants will have to shut down.

This report also makes me question the grades the county health department bestows on a restaurant. Sure, their kitchen may be clean and their restaurant may have earned the highest “A” grade from health inspectors. But where is their produce coming from? The health department has clearly dropped the ball when it comes to protecting the people who pay their salaries. And some of them have openly demonstrated through that television show that they don’t care.

So here’s to those backyard gardeners who grow some of their own. Anyone can grow tomatoes if you have some sunlight and a little room. Cucumbers, basil and snow peas are easy as well.