Farmer Joe’s scrutinized

Published 9:02 pm Saturday, May 10, 2014

The meat processing area at a local grocery store was shut down for part of April after an inspection revealed there was no hot water available for employees to wash their hands, among other violations.

Farmer Joe’s on Carolina Road came to the attention of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services following two complaints about fried crabs being sold at the store.

One of those complaints came from Mary Harrell, who told VDACS and the Suffolk News-Herald her entire family of eight became ill after eating the crabs April 5.

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“My niece’s birthday is on the sixth, and she turned 11 years old,” Harrell said. “She wanted some crabs. All we had was the crabs that day.”

Harrell said some members of the family had itching in the backs of their throats about 20 minutes after eating the crabs. Some broke out in hives and rashes about 30 minutes later, and all eight had vomiting and diarrhea after about an hour.

Harrell said she peeled some of the batter off the crabs and spotted dirt on the shells.

She went back to the store and complained to the owner, Hoon Kim. She said he ordered her out of the store, so she contacted VDACS.

Another customer had beaten her to the call. The first complaint received by the department came from a customer who purchased four fried crabs on April 7, according to a record of the complaint. That customer reported unsanitary conditions; employees not wearing gloves, hair nets or beard nets; and a cook whose sweat was dropping into the food.

A VDACS inspector visited on April 10 and found 10 violations noted in a report, including the lack of hot water at hand sinks; smoked sausage 10 degrees cooler than it should have been; meat products on display without proper labels; employees cooking crabs without hair or beard restraints; an employee washing her hands in a sink meant for sterilizing equipment; and employees and management who could not recite the symptoms of illnesses transmitted through food and were not aware of their duty to report if they had any such symptoms.

Kim told the inspector the woman had gotten angry when he refused to accept an EBT card for cooked food, the report stated.

The inspector shut down the meat processing area until hot water could be restored.

The next day, the department received Harrell’s complaint from her earlier purchase. The inspector was back at the store the following day and noted several repeat violations, all having to do with the lack of hot water available for washing hands and surfaces.

Kim told the inspector, and the Suffolk News-Herald, that he had offered to refund Harrell for her purchase and her medical care if any members of her family had gone to the doctor.

“I told her, ‘Go see your doctor. I’ll call my insurance company and refund your money,’” he said this Friday.

However, Harrell told VDACS and the News-Herald that nobody in her family went to the doctor.

Kim also said Harrell had asked him to change his batter, but he told her he uses only one flavor — which, according to the report, includes vinegar, hot sauce, flour, sugar, ground red pepper and hot chili sauce.

The inspector conducted a follow-up visit on April 21 and, although he still noted problems with food labeling and again saw an employee washing her hands in the equipment sink, allowed the meat processing area to resume operations, because it once again had hot water available, according to the inspection report.

A hot water heater in need of repair had been the issue, according to the report.