By JANE LERNER
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 29, 2005)
A Spring Valley food company that told state inspectors it was closing down because its products were contaminated with bacteria kept delivering salads to grocery stores anyway, officials said yesterday.
As a result, state inspectors spent the last several days visiting 128 stores in the New York metropolitan area that sold Golden Taste products — including 12 in Rockland — and pulling them off shelves, said Jessica Chittenden, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“When we found out that they did not cease distribution, we seized all their product and destroyed it,” she said.
Regulations prevented the department from disclosing to the public which stores carried Golden Taste products, she said.
Golden Taste, which already has been fined more than $6,000 for failing four state sanitary inspections since June, faces additional penalties, she said.
The company recalled some varieties of its salad four times since the middle of June after they were found to be contaminated with listeria.
The bacteria can cause pregnant women to suffer miscarriage or premature labor and can make the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems very sick. In healthy people, the bacteria cause flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches, fever, nausea and diarrhea.
After the company failed its last inspection and issued another recall July 15, state officials prepared to get a court order to close down the business, Chittenden said. But the company agreed to close voluntary until it passed a state inspection.
“They were supposed to stop all operations,” she said.
Rafael Perl, manager of the food processing plant, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The company’s salads are popular with people who observe Jewish dietary laws. Some consumers said yesterday that they were worried unsafe food was being sold.
“I’m dismayed that there appears to be a breakdown in the protection of the public,” said Monsey resident Mandell Ganchrow, a retired physician who formerly was president of the Orthodox Union, an organization that provides kosher certification. “Where were the people who are supposed to make sure that contaminated food isn’t sent out?”
Golden Taste makes about 50 products, which have kosher certificates issued by OK Kosher Certification of Brooklyn.
“A lot of people mistake kosher for cleaner,” said Rabbi Chaim Fogelman of OK Kosher. “Unfortunately, that’s not always so.”
Kosher inspectors check to make sure dietary laws are being adhered to, he said. They do not check for the presence of bacteria.
Kosher certification would be revoked if an inspector spotted roaches, for example, because insects in food violate religious law.
The same is not true of bacteria, Fogelman said.
Grocery store owners probably were not happy to learn they were stocking items that might be contaminated, said Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State. The Albany-based trade group represents independent and chain supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers and wholesalers.
“Retailers buy what’s made available to them,” he said. “The retailer assumes that if it’s out there on the market, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has certified it as being safe.”
The trade group gets regular food recall updates from the state, which it then passes along to its members, Rogers said. As soon as a recall is issued, store owners remove the item from the shelves and return it to the manufacturer for a refund.
“The last thing they want to do is sell bad food,” he said.
Golden Taste also recalled some salads in October 2004 and in January 2000 after state tests revealed listeria.
State officials said they did not know when the company would be allowed to resume production. It would have to inspected first.
But the company might find it difficult to sell its food because of its bad record, Rogers said.
“You have a supplier running a sloppy operation and expecting the retailer to continue selling the product,” he said. “I think after four recalls in one month, most retailers would say, ‘I don’t want your product anymore.’ ”
Food recall information
ï Consumers with questions may call Golden Taste at 845-356-4133.
ï For more about food recalls in New York, visit the state Department of Agriculture and Markets Web site at www.agmkt. state.ny.us/AD/ alertList.asp