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El Super stores are taking advantage of their customers

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In a report on NBC news in Los Angeles yesterday, Wednesday, February 19 (see http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Markets-Cited-for-High-Risk-Violations-246071781.html), it was revealed how low some local food store chains have sunk in their dealings with the public. El Super, which is found in communities such as Panorama City in the San Fernando Valley, East Los Angeles, and other low-income areas, has been endangering the health of their clientele. For those who rely on food stamps, WIC, or who exist paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s of great importance to have access to food of good quality. Shoppers at El Super certainly won’t find it in these outlets.

Their own employees, members of United Food & Commercial Workers, along with consumer advocate groups, have told NBC that the chain is regularly marketing merchandise that has exceeded the expiry dates. Items such as eggs, baby food, dairy products and meat are being sold that are up to a year past the “best before” date stamped on the packaging. While it may be true that certain products, especially those that are dried or frozen, are still safe to use for a time following any such dates, there are substances which are liable to spoil easily and should never be used let alone sold when they are that old. Certainly, there are some advocates of selling expired foods quickly at deep discounts but in such cases, the items are not those which are unsafe due to their age and ingredients. Others, like those which are highly perishable or contain eggs, meat or dairy products, are liable to fast spoilage and should be discarded.

Some of the groups involved in checking up on El Super include the Consumer Federation of California and the East LA Community Corporation. They have been working on an investigation of these transgressions of food safety since November of 2013, and have found appalling circumstances where people are sold goods that are allegedly dangerous to eat because of their age.

LA County’s Environmental Health inspectors had found, when they inspected the El Super stores, that some of the outlets had unsanitary conditions, such as dirty work surfaces, and improper temperatures for food storage. However, the store management has denied that the accusations of expired food sales are valid. They insist that the union is making false claims as part of a vendetta against them during labor negotiations.

When NBC’s reporters checked several of the stores, they did, however, find validity to the complaints of expired food being sold. A check of the Panorama City store by this writer for the Examiner today, however, found that all the expired products have been removed—which backs up the statements made by the news team which returned to the same stores and found none of the same items available. Apparently the evidence has been removed; however, readers are able to draw their own conclusions. If the reporters, not just union members, found expired foods for sale one day and none are anywhere in sight only twenty-four hours later, does this sound like management is scared of being caught in violation of health laws? Or does it seem likely, as they insist, that the workers invented the story to cause trouble?

Taking advantage of people by unfair marketing practices such as exorbitant prices is one thing. To deliberately, knowingly sell food to the public, especially for children and infants, that is hazardous to their health, which may cause illness, is unconscionable. El Super deserves to be fined heavily for such flagrant disregard for their customers’ safety. All their ill-gotten gains should be taken and redistributed to community health organizations who are actually concerned with the safety of the poor. It takes a truly Machiavellian mindset to purposely set out to sell unsafe food to those who can least afford any kind of nutrition in the first place.

For information on food safety here in Los Angeles County, you can check out http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/report/phreports.htm.

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