5 Things You Should Know About Supermarket Inspections

Food industry experts say you should think twice before you swear off your favorite deli or grocery store over a failed sanitary inspection.

Click here for a full page view of the map.

So, you've looked at our interactive map and your favorite Southampton grocery store isn't perfect.

Here are five things to consider:

1. Few stores are perfect

"You can go into almost any store and find some form of a deficiency," said Jim Rogers, head of the Food Industry Alliance, a trade group representing grocery stores in New York state. For every critical deficiency -- a serious threat to food safety -- that is shown on our map, there are 58 general deficiencies, which are less serious.

"I don't mean they shouldn't be addressed, but they don't impact food safety directly," Rogers said.

And inspectors might have caught the store on a bad day, said Robert Gravani, a professor of food science at Cornell University. 

"Remember, an inspection is a snapshot, not a videotape," Gravani said.

Patch's analysis of records shows just 8 percent of stores on the map that have been inspected had no problems on their last inspection. And inspectors' notes reveal many serious violations were corrected at the time of the inspection.

2. Not all deficiencies are the same

With our map, you can pull up details on any store's most recent inspection, because numbers don't tell the whole story.

Finding a mouse in a trap "doesn't mean you have a dirty store" but it is a critical deficiency, Rogers said.

3. The store could be in a bad neighborhood

In some places, where a failing store is the only full-service supermarket, shutting it down could create a "food desert," experts said.

"No other store is going to go into that neighborhood and operate," Rogers said. "That causes a hardship on customers."

And some problems might not be the store's fault, Rogers said. A grocery store operating next to an adjoining building with poor pest control may have trouble keeping the roaches and mice at bay, for example. Some stores, of course, don't have that excuse.

"If you have a self-standing store, that's much more manageable," he said.

4. You might be making yourself sick

Nearly a quarter of foodborne illnesses could be blamed on unsanitary practices at home, a 2006 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control found.

"You can buy a perfectly wholesome food and screw it up in your own kitchen," said Gravani, whose department has developed a printable home food safety guide.

5. Most grocery stores think food safety is good for business

In 2007, the Food Industry Association, over some industry objections, supported a new state law that requires ongoing food safety training for grocery stores. Now, most New York supermarkets are required to have a manager with a state-approved food safety certification.

It's clear why -- cleanliness is becoming increasingly important to customers. A 2013 survey by the National Grocers Association found the freshness of products, the quality fruits and vegetables, and the cleanliness of the store were the top features customers used to select a store.

Some stores, Rogers admits, don't measure up.

"There are those bad actors out there that tar and feather everyone," he said. "There are some establishments where I just wouldn't want to buy food."


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