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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Beware TV Crews Coming To A Market Near You

Our companion pieces, Rats in Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame and The Rats Of New York Teach The Produce Industry Some Lessons On Food Safety brought forth this letter from a reader close to the Pundit’s heart:

When Joe Pellicone used to stretch his arms to show me the size of the rat that he saw, I would ask him if that included his tail.

I remember adopting two tough cats to solve the problem.

Poppa Pundit

The Poppa Pundit is Mike Prevor, and he ran Prevor Marketing International, an exporter, importer and wholesaler headquartered on the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, New York.

Joe Pellicone worked for the company and, today, works for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, but started out when the old Bud Antle tried opening a facility on the market.

Truth is that we did a lot more than get some cats. The Pundit spent a chunk of family change on a high-tech ultrasonic system to chase the rats, and it succeeded for almost two days.

In fact, the rats were so drawn to the produce, they seemed especially fond of things with seeds such as cantaloupe melons, that no amount of cleaning, sound or cats could keep them away 100%.

Which doesn’t mean we didn’t try.

And here is a word of advice to all wholesale markets: Media outlets are often like lemmings. They follow each other. So you can count on media outlets in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities where there are markets planning right now to duplicate the success NBC had in Los Angeles with undercover reports on markets in their cities.

Most of the markets in the U.S. are in significantly better shape than the 7th Street Market in Los Angeles, but not one is in such good shape that a clever and persistent cameraman won’t catch a rat, catch garbage where it shouldn’t be, catch inadequate hand washing and what not. The public bathrooms in a lot of these facilities are also subpar.

This happens, of course, for reasons. Even on the 7th Street Market, it wasn’t the market’s owner who put graffiti in the bathroom or stole the plumbing pieces — it was transients, workers, buyers and others. The reason that market will deteriorate is because if they put in beautiful new bathrooms, the people who use them will destroy them.

None the less, this is far too complicated to explain on Channel 7, so every market should have a special committee right now, making sure things are as clean as they can be, as sanitary as they can be. Put each market in a condition that, if a rat is found, you feel comfortable defending the market’s overall sanitation.

Hopefully, if our markets do the job right, the TV crews will not find enough to make it a worthwhile story.

If that is not enough incentive, here is another one: many foodservice operators saw how Johnny Rockets and IHOP were pilloried in that TV report. They may be sending audit teams of their own into markets to ascertain if they go on a clean list or a banned list.

Any market that isn’t focused on this threat is making a grave mistake.

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