On Sept. 27, 2012, New York health inspectors destroyed nearly five pounds of canolis and other cream-filled pastries deemed unfit for sale at Uncle Giuseppe's market in Smithtown, a critical health issue that resulted in the market's eighth failed health inspection since opening in 2005.
The canoli problem was one of seven critical flaws – considered hazardous to a person's health – uncovered by inspectors responding to a shopper complaint that marinated raw chicken bought at the store made them sick, according to public information supplied by the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Other critical violations included a food buildup in a meat grinder, cutting boards with deep knife scores with embedded material, flies in the bakery and seafood departments and 14 pounds of Pecorino Romano cheese possibly contaminated by beef blood, which was destroyed during the inspection.
RELATED: 5 Things You Should Know About Grocery Inspections
Inspectors also found 50 general deficiencies not considered a health risk, the highest tally for these violations found in any Smithtown store in recent inspections. Costco in Nesconset ranked second, with 19 general violations in its last inspection.
The Smithtown store, considered the flagship of the Farmingdale-based chain known for its Italian deli charm in a supermarket scale, has failed inspections eight times since it opened in 2005, and has passed nine times. On seven occasions inspectors were called to the store after shoppers complained that food from raw chicken to prepared quiche made them sick, including one July 2011 incident where a woman filed a complaint with the Suffolk County Department of Health alleging prepared lasagna and eggplant she bought gave her a bout of campylobacteriosis, a painful food-borne bacterial infection that can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea in the worst cases.
RELATED: Full Map of Smithtown Grocery Store Inspections
County health department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern could not confirm the complaint by press time, but said it would be common practice for the county to receive the complaint and alert the state inspection board. Beyond that, the county has little to do with overseeing supermarket safety, she said.
Uncle Giuseppe's declined to be interviewed for this story, but did send a statement addressing its inspection record.
"Whereas other supermarkets purchase food from other companies, or prepare it offsite and warehouse the products in their stores, almost everything we sell is made from scratch. As a result, minor violations are more prevalent in Uncle Giuseppe’s than in a location that does not directly handle food and ingredients as often," company spokeswoman Arielle Brechisci said in the statement.
"Many of the infractions listed in Smithtown’s most recent report are very minor: some involving non-food material storage in non-food areas, a thermometer that was incorrect by two degrees, and a single record missing from a daily production report. The most serious infraction – cheese contaminated with blood – was blood from the roasts that were being stuffed with the cheese."
The store also acknowledged it has had illness complaints, but said they are "one-in-a-million" incidents.
"We’ve received seven complaints of illness in the past eight years that Smithtown has been opened, and during that time we’ve serviced more than five million transactions."
The state data show the market is having similar inspection results across its entire network. Uncle Giuseppe's has flunked health inspections at four of its five Long Island markets, including in Port Jefferson, which, like Smithtown, failed its most recent visit.
In August 2012, three state inspectors spent two days in the store on Route 112 in Port Jefferson after a customer reported a cockroach in a bag of Italian bread bought at the store, according to state records. Although no cockroaches were found, the inspectors did find more than a dozen flies buzzing around the deli kitchen, meat room and seafood and produce preparation areas.
The store failed the inspection with a total of nine serious problems including meat grinders and a mixing machine clogged with residue, unrefrigerated fresh cheeses, sausage and soft cheese labeled with a use-by date that exceeded the 14 day limit allowed by law and the lack of a hand-washing sink in the cheese grating room.
The inspectors also flagged 35 general deficiencies, including storage-room shelves covered in mildew and said the store did not have a valid state license to prepare and serve food at the time of the inspection.
Then, on Dec. 7, 2012, inspectors conducted another investigation after a shopper complained that the market was selling previously frozen seafood as fresh. Again, the inspection found nothing related to the consumer complaint but did find several other problems, including slime and food waste buildup on pizza dough storage containers, the records show.
The store failed the reinspection with a total of five critical deficiencies and 51 general deficiencies. The store still did not have a valid license to prepare and serve food, although management stated an application had been submitted.
In total, the Port Jefferson store has failed three out of its four visits from the state.
In Massapequa, where Uncle Giuseppe's launched its newest store in May 2011, the market has also failed half of its inspections.
On Sept. 11, 2012, an inspector found cooked chicken breasts in danger of being contaminated by raw chicken because of improper processing procedures, according to the reports.
The inspection also revealed food was not being cooled properly – chicken breasts were stored in deep containers. The store switched to shallow containers, and was not cited for this problem during a reinspection on Dec. 4, 2012.
The inspector did note 18 general deficiencies in the reinspection, mostly involving dirty equipment.
Meanwhile, the chain's first storefront in East Meadow has failed half of its inspections since 2000, most recently on June 21, 2012, when inspectors found food was not being cooled properly as well as unsanitary cutting boards.
The store passed its most recent inspection on August 21, 2012, though the inspector was still concerned about proper food cooling, citing the store for a less serious violation.
A bright spot among the chain: Uncle Giuseppe's smallest store in Port Washington has never failed a state health inspection.
State records do show the company responding to its tainted inspection record. After a failed inspection in January 2012, inspectors held a food-safety conference with store management, and reinspected the store in March. The store passed that inspection, but failed again in September.
Meanwhile, locals we asked in our Facebook page had mixed reviews for the market.
"I love it! Love the prepared meals, makes my weeknight dinners so much easier!" said Danielle Townsend Adragna.
Though Tim Dubriske had a different experience.
"Almost every time I eat prepared food from there I get sick," he said.