published Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Health inspectors examining food stocks


by Dan Whisenhunt

With power finally restored Friday following Wednesday’s tornadoes, the Mr. Zip Texaco station in North Chattanooga was back in business selling gas, snacks, beer and soft drinks.

But the convenience store must discard its milk, eggs, meat, ice cream and other refrigerated perishables because of the storm-induced power outage this week.

“We’ll probably lose $3,000 or more,” said Tracy Alejandro, the store’s assistant manager.

Many restaurants and grocery stores that lost power for more than four to six hours after Wednesday’s storms are having to dump some of their inventories.

Refrigerated food must stay below 51 degrees to keep it from spoiling, said Lowe Wilkins, program supervisor for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department’s restaurant inspection program.

“Most refrigerators will not hold a temperature required for refrigeration more than four or six hours,” he said. “A freezer can usually stay frozen for up to two days.”

Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said that, by law, restaurants without power cannot continue to operate. She said she knows of at least one restaurant owner who took his food inventory and stored it in another restaurant’s cooler for the time being.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, which inspects grocery stores, was staying out of the way while rescue efforts are under way, said spokeswoman Casey Mahoney. But “our inspectors beginning next week will be in these grocery stores,” Mahoney said.

She said inspections will extend to gas stations and other convenience stores that sell groceries. In all, there are more than 500 food retail stores in Hamilton County, Mahoney said.

Eggs must be kept at 45 degrees and everything else has to be stored at 41 degrees, she said.

Some area grocery stores that lost power Wednesday ran on generators and managed as best they could. By Friday, the Bi-Lo in Red Bank was running pretty much normally, though its deli wasn’t cooking hot food, said employee Curtis Cramer. The store pulled its refrigerated items immediately after power was lost and stored them until a generator could be brought in, he said.

Publix, which is based in Lakeland, Fla., began building its grocery stores to accommodate major storms and power outages after suffering heavy losses from hurricanes in Florida.

Power was out a couple of days at the Publix store in East Brainerd and remains out for 11 Publix stores in Huntsville, Ala. But company spokeswoman Brenda Reid said the company has emergency plans to use backup generators and dry ice in refrigerators at each store to keep food within temperature guidelines.

“We kept all of our stores operating normal schedules, even in those areas where there was no electricity and most other stores were closed,” Reid said.

Food Lion closed some of its stores, but company spokesman Benny L. Smith said he expects all of the Food Lions to be back open by this weekend.

Brad Wahl, vice president of marketing for Krystal, said the company relies on generators and, when that fails, refrigerated trucks, to ensure that its food is safe.

“A certain amount of time, you have to throw it away,” Wahl said. “Food safety is a major concern.”

Reporters Ellis Smith and Mike Pare contributed to this report.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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