by Doug Powell
A Globe review of Boston food safety inspection data found that supermarkets are equal-opportunity offenders, with hundreds of violations, big and small, scattered across stores and neighborhoods of all kinds.
Three years of citation records from the city’s Inspectional Services Department show a wide variety of problems, from minor ones such as cluttered storage areas and ice buildup in freezers to critical ones like employees not washing up before handling food. And there were nearly 50 citations issued for evidence of rodents, flies, or cockroaches.
Of the stores open during the entire three-year period, everyone had at least a dozen violations.
The Boston supermarket with the most violations — 127 — was the Whole Foods on Cambridge Street, near Beacon Hill, a high-end brand in what is generally considered a well-to-do, white-collar area. But not all citations are created equal, so sheer quantity may not be an indicator of an especially problematic store.
Case in point: The majority of violations (108) at the Cambridge Street Whole Foods involved relatively minor problems, including dirty shelves and improperly stored mops. None of them involved mice or rats. It was last week’s discovery of mice in a Roxbury Stop & Shop that brought new attention to the issue of supermarket cleanliness.
Interpreting the violation data requires some context. For example, larger grocery stores, as well as chains with more locations, often have a higher chance of being hit with citations simply because their size creates more opportunities for missteps. That’s especially true among stores like Whole Foods that sell large quantities of self-service prepared foods.
A Whole Foods spokeswoman, in a statement, said the chain is “dedicated to maintaining the highest quality standards for the products we sell and the stores we operate.”
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