Monday, September 15, 2008

Spoiling for a Food Fight

In today's NY post, the paper highlights what is described as a, "Spoiler Alert," an expose of supposed violations of health regs by the city's bodegas and small restaurants: "Many owners of local bodegas, delis and other small food businesses are routinely violating health laws - and imperiling their customers' health - by transporting perishable food in nonrefrigerated vehicles after buying it wholesale, a Post investigation has found."

What's real here, and what's not? What we do know is this. The city's thirteen thousand bodegas and 15,000 or so small restaurants have been using the cash-and-carry methodology for the past four decades-without any kind of health epidemic that would be expected from the allegations that the paper breathlessly writes about today: "By law, such food must be transported at temperatures of less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of bacteria such as salmonella and listeria that can sicken or even kill. And meat and poultry, whose drippings can contaminate other food, must be kept segregated."

We're not sure that this is accurate, but we are sure that the city's small food businesses remain competitive and provide local stores and restaurants with healthy and affordable food and meals because of warehouse businesses such as Jetro. We also know that large out of town wholesalers would love to be able to deliver directly to all of these small outlets-at greatly higher costs to the businesses and their customers (most of whom are already paying drastically higher food prices).

And there are ways to keep products cool without using refrigerated trucks: "When told about what The Post reporter witnessed, Joseph Ferrara, director of the state Agriculture Department's division of food safety and inspection, said, "We've found similar problems." He said that in the majority of cases, buyers at wholesale outlets are not using any refrigeration for the food or "they're typically using coolers."

Did the Post examine all of these vehicles? From what we've been told, as long as trips are relatively short and local, there is no law mandated refrigerated conveyance vehicles. As Jetro told the paper: "Stanley Fleishman, CEO of the company that operates 58 Restaurant Depot and Jetro food wholesalers nationwide, said, "We do not believe there is a problem with transporting perishables because we have programs to address the challenge and customers who need to stay in business."

Nor do we think there is a huge health issue here; and in the absence of statistics on food borne illnesses, we really think that the entire article is a hit piece, a scare tactic, instigated by companies that are upset that they aren't able to deliver their goods as economically as the Jetros of the city, in symbiosis with the bodegueros and small restaurants, can manage.