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    Inspectors flunked area Albertson's

    The store was given a "poor'' sanitation rating but improved in a subsequent check by state officials.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


    LARGO -- State agriculture officials gave the department's lowest sanitation rating to a Largo Albertson's in December and January.

    The store at 3825 East Bay Drive received a "poor" rating as recently as Jan. 29, after anonymous complaints were filed. The store, according to records, has since passed a Feb. 2 inspection with a "good," rating.

    "Basically, this store has had what our food inspectors describe as an up-and-down history," said Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "(It) has had some problems."

    Inspection reports show that mice have scurried across shelves and floors, that some dairy products were left on the shelves two to six days after the dates had expired, and that in December, meat and seafood were kept at temperatures 5 degrees warmer than what the state requires. All of the meat department's equipment also was found to be unsanitary in December.

    Albertson's representatives say the store is committed to providing high-quality food in a clean store and has adhered to the department of agriculture's recommendations.

    They have sealed doors to keep rodents from entering the building and re-emphasized training procedures for handling dairy products and other foods.

    "From all we can tell here in Boise, we have successfully eliminated the situation. But as a precautionary measure, we are continuing daily inspections, and a pest-control company is visiting three times a week to do their independent inspection," said Steve Hilton, vice president of product quality and environmental affairs for Albertson's Inc., based in Boise, Idaho.

    Like the 40,000 grocery stores, food processing plants and food distribution centers throughout out the state, the Albertson's in Largo will receive two to three unannounced visits from inspectors this year.

    Last year, about 90 percent of those food outlets received "good" or "fair" ratings, which are considered passing. About 10 percent received a "poor" rating, or a what is considered a failing grade, said John Fruin, chief of the state's bureau of food inspection.

    The calls citing unsanitary conditions at the Largo Albertson's started five months ago.

    The first caller complained about a strong odor coming from the meat cases in October. On Nov. 1, a second caller said he saw rat droppings in and around the candy area. That call was followed by another on Dec. 6 when someone complained of a fish odor in the fish department, fearing that spoiled fish was being sold. On Jan. 25, someone said rats were in the store.

    On Dec. 11, an inspector found unsanitary conditions in the meat department, a "bug zapper" hanging over a sink, expired cottage cheese sitting on store shelves, and a dust pan being used as an ice scoop.

    A follow-up visit on Jan. 12 netted a "good" rating.

    But on Jan. 29 a second inspector found many of the same problems. He found mice feces in the pet food aisle and near doors in the receiving area, and dairy products on store shelves two to six days after expiration dates had passed. A follow-up visit on Feb. 2 showed the store had improved, and it received a "good" rating.

    Despite the store's high rating earlier this month, the department of agriculture is closely watching the store, McElroy said.

    "We're concerned anytime we have a store where we are repeatedly called out there," he said. "The store's status is okay with us, but we will clearly be keeping an eye on it."

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