In November 2016, the ABC Action News I-Team did an investigation into the cleanliness of seven Publix grocery stores, who had all failed their health inspections, in the Tampa area. However, the day after the story aired the Department of Agriculture removed all pass/fail grades and pulled all inspections off-line. (I’m no fan of Publix, you can read about why here.)
Why? Because Adam Putnam, Florida’s Department of Agriculture Commissioner, felt the pass/fail system wasn’t clear enough, “…if it’s a failure, why is it still open?” he questioned. (However, the previous violations were serious and now the public has no idea about the safety of where they are shopping.)
Pssst. Does Putnam’s name sound familiar? That’s because the putz was involved in the Zika spray scandal which you can read here. 
Putnam went on to say, “That’s why the pass/fail system is a failure because an industry leader, who has highly trained and highly qualified, nationally renowned food safety standards ought not be mislabeled based on minor infractions.”
So just what were the ‘minor infractions’?
  • Rodent problems inside the Britton Plaza Publix at 3838 Britton Plaza in South Tampa; inspectors documented numerous rodent droppings behind a food pallet and storage area.
  • A large stop sale of 200 pounds of food because of dangerous temperatures at the store at 1313 South Dale Mabry Highway near Neptune; the store would later throw out whole chickens, various salads, macaroni ‘n cheese, Cuban sandwiches and other food.
  • Fly glue-strips hanging over exposed bread and other food in the bakery as well as live ants on the walls at the Publix at 8975 Race Track Road in Lutz.

Those don’t seem ‘minor’ to me at all.

So perhaps the real reason that the grading scale suddenly disappeared, and is worthless after all this time, is because “state and federal election commission records show Putnam received almost $354,000 from Publix, its employees and their families to support his election campaigns for state and federal office over the past 20 years.” Ah yes, that makes WAY more sense.
  • Campaign contributions include $4,200 in 1996-2000,
  • $117,687 from 2000-2012 when Putnam was a congressman,
  • and $232,038 from 2012 to present- the time Putnam has been the AG Commissioner.
  • He also used the Publix personal travel jet on November 9, 2015
Putnam denies that any of that swayed his decision and that a group of university professors, industry reps, and food safety experts are brainstorming on just what makes a good grading system. But, after four months of research, consumers are still in the dark as nothing has been put in place. And it seems that more Publix stores are racking up ‘priority violations’ without evaluation or warning for the public.
  • a rack of whole rotisserie chickens improperly cooling had to be thrown out
  • Ackee cans swollen and leaking on shelves
  • no date marking of deli turkey meat which inspectors ordered be tossed out
  • frozen shrimp improperly thawing at room temperature
  • an open package of deli salads, tuna, and condiments stored in a pool of water in the cooler
  • black mold and old food residue on kitchen equipment
  • seven-layer salads and Cuban sandwiches at dangerous temperatures in the deli
  • raw sausage stored over cooked sausage, a cross contamination issue
  • and food stored on the floor.

In response, Publix issued a statement:

Publix Statement: 
We recognize the trust and confidence our customers place in us, and we would never knowingly disappoint them. We strive to exceed their expectations. The violations at the stores you reference in your email were all corrected during the time of inspection. In addition, our support teams provided re-training, coaching, counseling and addressed each concern appropriately.  
At Publix, we take food safety and the protection of our customers very seriously. We are committed to collaborating with our suppliers, other retailers, local and state regulatory agencies and academia to share best practices in order to create a shared infrastructure across industries throughout our great state. We participate on several food safety advisory councils as well as industry and professional working groups.    
The Florida Food Defense and Advisory Council, a group commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), creates one such infrastructure for enhancing outreach, response and information sharing of food safety issues at the state and national level. Advisory Council members include representatives from regulatory, industry, academia and consumer groups. This Advisory Council also provides a dynamic forum for stakeholder collaboration regarding food safety issues and protecting public health. It was the request of this Advisory Council to take a step back and to work with food safety professionals across the state in a transparent manner, leveraging the expertise and current science of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We believe the best outcome would be a common inspection and rating system throughout the state to eliminate confusion and differential standards across sectors.   
It should also be noted that FDACS has experienced several I/S system outages over the past year.  If any information is not on the agency’s website, we would encourage you to contact the Division of Food Safety with FDACS.    
As for Publix’s support of Commissioner Putnam, we have been a proud supporter of him throughout his career, as we have for many political candidates who similarly support free market principles, economic growth and job creation for our home state of Florida. Our company’s support of Commissioner Putnam has included his campaigns for Commissioner of Agriculture, as well as his prior candidacies for US Congress representing the area of the state in which we are headquartered. 
Commissioner Putnam traveled on our plane November 5, 2015. The political committee, Florida Grown, paid for such travel and reported it as a campaign expenditure by the political committee to Publix in its filing with the Department of State, Division of Elections for the period November 1-30, 2015. 
Commissioner Putnam made the trip to join in and speak at a celebration of Publix Charities $1.5 million donation to 12 Feeding America member food banks. As Commissioner of Agriculture, he knows first-hand that one in seven Americans struggles with food insecurity, and this hardship can have a lasting impact on their lives, from education to health to employment. The generous contribution of our Foundation helped provide nutritious food to families in need by providing the much needed funding for refrigerated trucks to transport perishable items from retail locations, such as Publix, to member food banks.  
Brian West
Media and Community Relations Manager
Publix Super Markets, Inc.


Source: ABC Action News