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Special report: Just how clean is your grocery store?


A trip to the grocery store is something most Americans make at least once , if not twice a week. But how clean is your neighborhood store?

From start to finish, you may be able to find germs in your grocery store.

“You know, I’ve wondering about those little dirty hands that were just fingering all that stuff,” one shopper said.

Another agreed: “Especially in the bakery area, when the doors open like they do, flies kind of get in.”

Oregon Department of Agriculture inspector Jon Harrang said, “We want be sure that the critical things are being taken care of, so people don’t get sick.”

But inspections don’t occur as often as you might think.

“The goal would be every six months. The reality is, it may be be more like a year,” Harrang said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends one inspection every six months.

Due to tight budgets and limited staff, stores in Central Oregon are inspected every 12 to 24 months.

“I didn’t know that, that is interesting,” a shopper said. “You’d think they would be inspected a little bit more.”

Another added, “I would expect them to do at least the same as they do at restaurants, because they are basically the same thing.”

But it’s a completely different agency that inspects restaurants, and those results are posted publicly.

For grocery stores, it’s a much different story. You have to file an official public records request with the Department of Agriculture.

To obtain the grocery stores results in the 97701 area code from the past two years, it would cost over $300 and take at least a week, if not longer.

“Pretty much trust the store to be doing the right thing,” one shopper said.

Harrang said, “They are unannounced inspections. That adds a great deal of integrity to the program.”

We called most grocery stores in Central Oregon to ask if they would take part in this story, and most refused or never returned our calls. Finally, Fred Meyer in Redmond agreed.

The inspection begins with clean clothing, hair restraint and hand-washing.

“One cause of food-related illness in this country goes back to people that are preparing food with unclean hands,” Harrang said.

Next, get everything calibrated, because temperature is important.

“The key things we are looking would be proper food temperatures: hot food hot, and cold food cold,” Harrang said.

Expiration dates are also important, especially on baby foods, to protect the most fragile of humans.

Harrang is the ODA inspector in Central Oregon, which means he inspects something every day.

“Everything that’s not a restaurant,” Harrang said.

The ODA inspects everything from meat packers to dairy farms and even breweries.

In 2014, with 34 inspectors and two supervisors, they completed just under 3,000 grocery store inspections, but in total they have 11,000 licenses to inspect.

“A lot of our role that we see ourselves doing is food safety educator,” Harrang said.

Grocery stores don’t receive scores or grades, they just are ordered to throw things out. But other times, action is taken.

“Some of the less critical items, we will give them more time. Some, the more serious, we will take immediate actions,” Harrang said

Soon, Harrang will have help.

The ODA is hiring another inspector for Central Oregon to help with the workload that has recently skyrocketed in the area.

The store inspected in this story, the Fred Meyer in Redmond, passed with flying colors.

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