By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO After briefly closing its bakery, deli and produce sections last week, the Monticello Walmart is back in full operation and with a clean slate, as far as the state is concerned.
NYS Division of Agriculture and Markets spokeswoman Jessica Ziehm confirmed yesterday that the grocery section of the store had passed a state food safety inspection on Friday, June 22.
That inspection was made necessary because Walmart had applied for a new food processing license after voluntarily surrendering its old one on June 19.
“It was a mutual decision [between the company and the state] to briefly close the deli and bakery sections of the store,” Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said yesterday.
The surrender of the license capped three days of testimony in front of an independent hearing officer hired by the state to investigate five consecutive failed food safety inspections stretching back to last year.
State inspectors had found thousands of mice droppings, several dead mice and evidence of rodent and bird activity throughout the sales and work areas of the Monticello Walmart’s grocery section.
The hearing became mandatory after a fifth failed inspection earlier this month, but when Walmart surrendered its license, “it basically cancelled out the hearing,” said Ziehm.
“We won’t be receiving the hearing officer’s report at all,” she explained.
According to Whaling, from the night of June 20 to June 22, Walmart closed the areas of the store dealing with raw foods, as it did not possess an active food processing license.
But after passing last Friday’s state inspection, Walmart reopened all the closed areas, with a new license now in force.
Ziehm confirmed the new license means the issues with the old license and the past failed inspections are essentially wiped away. In other words, the store can once again fail up to three consecutive food safety inspections before the state requires a compliance meeting and up to five before forcing a hearing.
The June 22 inspection report indicated no “critical deficiencies” but did note “old-appearing mouse droppings” on the warehouse floor near chocolate candy storage, two live flies, and dried food spillage on a dairy walk-in cooler (which was corrected).
“At this point, they are in good standing with the department [of Ag and Markets],” said Ziehm.
An unannounced state inspection will be coming in the next six months, which Whaling indicated Walmart intends to pass.
She said a pest control company continues to be active on site and that employees have received training to “stay ahead” of any potential problems with rodents, birds and insects.
“We do feel confident we’re taking all appropriate actions to assure our customers we’re taking this seriously,” Whaling stated. “We definitely appreciate the support from local officials and the community.”
In the meantime, if customers are concerned about food safety conditions at the Monticello Walmart, Ziehm said they’re welcome to call the state at 1-800-554-4501 or file a complaint at www.agriculture.ny.gov/contact.html.
“We do follow up with an inspection to check them out,” Ziehm affirmed.