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One week after an unannounced visit found spoiled meat and mold-filled produce at a Ward 7 Safeway store, D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray met with company officials to discuss the unhealthy conditions of its stores on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast and Alabama Avenue in Southeast.
“Safeway claims they regularly put in organic produce, but I don’t see that,” said Gray, who noted that store officials claimed that molded strawberries and expired meat are not unusual.
Safeway executives refused to speak with reporters before or after the meeting with Gray, who surprised store employees and others Thursday with an unannounced site visit after listening to multiple complaints of moldy food products, spoiled meat and other unsanitary conditions.
“Ward 7 is a grocery, health care and retail desert and the existing grocery stores serving this community provide unacceptable substandard products and services, thereby holding low-income residents without transportation options hostage,” said Gray, who chairs the council’s health committee.
Despite store officials remaining tight-lipped, a major cleanup reportedly had already begun in the wake of Gray’s visit — and, some said, as Gray met across the street with store executives.
Employees on Thursday were seen pulling expired items from the shelves, fixing displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, and scrubbing refrigerator cases from sudsy buckets.
Discolorations on the walls were painted and, in the meat section, a corporate employee took note of the improvements, snapping photos of freshly packaged beef.
Safeway had sent Gray’s office an action plan in May with plans to improve quality across the board.
“And here we are, three months later,” said Janis Hazel, Gray’s director of communication and a Ward 7 ANC commissioner. “We haven’t seen any of that in evidence. Safeway has a long way to go in terms of community relations and communications.”
Gray had been out of the country and just got back on Wednesday, Aug. 16, a day before the surprise inspections, and people had been calling and he said let’s go out there ourselves.
“We met with Safeway back in April and asked for an action plan and we’re not pleased with it. We’ve gotten tweets of empty shelves and the Benning Road store recently reduced its hours, closing earlier than any other store in the District,” she said.
The reduction in hours arrived with little to no notice, Gray said.
Although she lives nearby, Hazel said she hasn’t been to her local Safeway in 11 years.
“I refuse to go to my Safeway which is the Benning Road store,” she said. “I’ve lived in D.C. for 32 years and I have not been in that store because of poor sanitation. The floors are sticky and the meat and produce are rotten and it’s just horrible.
“It’s not the experience I got when I lived on Capitol Hill and it’s not the experience you get in Southwest,” she said.