How Safe is Our Pre-Cut Produce?

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

A renewed focus on bodegas following a Hep A scare

The recent Hepatitis A exposure at the Westside Market at 97th and Broadway had consumers all over the city reeling - and wondering if they can trust their local grocer.

The incident came as a result of the disease potentially being spread from an infected food preparer to consumers of pre-sliced produce. The Department of Health sent out a release warning consumers who had made possible contact with these products to get vaccinated as soon as possible. This outbreak also comes on the heels of a similar scare earlier this spring at Alta, a restaurant in downtown Manhattan.

We took to the Upper West Side neighborhood to see how local bodegas keep their pre-packaged food safe and what the inspection process looks like.

Pre-packaged food, with a substantially higher markup than the unprepared product - a container of sliced fruit goes for approximately five dollars, though it varies according to weight - is common at delis and corner stores.

Anis Ewais, the manager at Pyramid Deli and Grocery on W. 96th and Broadway says his pre-packaged food comes from a company named Jetro.

Remarking on the incident at Westside Market, Ewais says, "Everybody has to be careful."

At 737 West Side American on West End Avenue, manager Lazaro Merino shows off his bodega's notice of inspection by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The store's last inspection was 19 days prior.

Merino says his store has its own kitchen and the city frequently checks in to make sure things are running smoothly.

"They check how fresh and clean it is," says Merino. "They even check how long you wash your hands."

"They check everything, but it's good," he adds.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Markets's notice, Merino's store is "in substantial compliance in that no critical deficiencies were observed."

The Department requires such notices of inspection to be posted conspicuously near public entrances of markets like Merino's.

At the 95 Star Deli on W. 95th and Amsterdam, Manager Bashir Shohathi says everything pre-packaged in the store comes from the company Boar's Head. Shohathi says his deli is checked out regularly by the Health Department.

Shohathi says he heard about the Hepatitis A exposure at the Westside Market but believes it's good that the community has reached out to help vaccinate those who were possibly exposed.

But the question remains of how consumers feel about this conveniently sliced but markedly expensive produce with often questionable origins.

"I never get it," says Yohnny Pena, who was shopping at a bodega at E. 63rd and Lexington on the Upper East Side, but says he gets his produce at Whole Foods. "I want to know what I'm putting in my body. I prefer spending my money on my health and wellbeing."