Report Cites Egregious Food Safety & Sanitation Violations by Local Food Retailers

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Study highlights negative health impacts on Detroit’s children, low-income, black and Latino communities

DETROIT – The Good Food, Good Jobs Coalition of Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit (D-4) released a report Thursday on food safety and access in Detroit’s grocery and corner stores with liquor and food stamp vendor licenses. The report found that 38 percent of the 207 food retailers surveyed in Detroit sold expired food and 22 percent sold expired meat. Coalition members say the report provides compelling evidence that Detroit communities with the highest number of young children, communities of color, and poor communities have the least access to food quality and safety. The report was released at a Good Food, Good Jobs Summit, attended by 250 community leaders and members.

“If we are serious about making Detroit a healthy place to live, then we need to take a long, hard look at problems like stores selling unsafe foods, which are creating these problems in the first place,” said Brandi Trapp, a Detroit resident and a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan who, together with other community volunteers collected survey data for the report.

The report, titled “Unequal Access: Two Tiers of Food Safety and Sanitation in Detroit’s Corner and Grocery Stores,” is based on over 200 surveys that were conducted of a random sample of grocery and corner stores in Detroit licensed to accept food stamps and sell liquor, government data, and industry research. Key findings include:

  • Low-tier retailers are more likely to serve neighborhoods with higher numbers of children, low-income neighborhoods, and African American and Latino neighborhoods than neighborhoods with fewer children, white neighborhoods, and high-income neighborhoods.
  • A substantial number of food retailers with liquor licenses in Detroit are low-tier retailers with food violations including for expired food (38%); expired meat (22%); and decaying fruits (22%)
  • These violations can directly result in consumer illness.
  • A significant number of Detroit food retailers with liquor licenses are top-tier retailers, meaning no food safety (36%) or sanitation violations (37%) were observed, suggesting higher rates of compliance with food safely regulations.

Among the D-4’s policy recommendations that advocates say would have a direct impact on Detroit residents’ quality of life are that: 1) An establishment’s record of compliance with food safety, sanitation, and other legal standards are considered when government licenses are granted. Currently, local statutes state these licenses are to be granted only to responsible employers who do not jeopardize public safety and wellbeing; 2) Better enforcement policies that recognize food retailers who play by the rules; and 3) Policies that support local and regional sourcing, like Healthy Food Incentives, which generate resources for independent urban retailers to provide healthy foods.

“I believe that the policy recommendations of the Good Food, Good Jobs Summit are important,” said Reverend D. Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and MOSES.  “In order to protect workers and our health, we must tie government licenses to business integrity, food quality, and local sourcing.”

At the Good Food, Good Jobs Summit, State Representative Rashida Tlaib announced that she would introduce legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives within 30 days which, if passed, would create opportunities for local and state governments to take into account an establishment’s history of non-compliance with basic food safety and workplace standards in state and local governments’ liquor licensing process.  Detroit City Council members Andre Spivey, Ken Cockrel, and Brenda Jones are also working with the Coalition to draft similar legislation for the city of Detroit.

The report and a community engagement toolkit are available here.

About the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan

With over 750 members, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-MI) is the state’s largest organization of restaurant workers.  Based in Detroit, ROC-Michigan is an affiliate of ROC-United, a national restaurant worker organization founded after September 11th, 2001 by restaurant workers displaced from the World Trade Center.  ROC-Michigan seeks to improve wages and working conditions for Southeast Michigan’s low-wage restaurant workforce. Through participatory research and policy work, employer engagement, workplace justice campaigns, and membership and leadership development,ROC-Michigan has become a powerful vehicle for restaurant workers to lift their collective voice on issues affecting all low-wage workers, including the minimum wage, paid sick days, compliance with basic employment standards, and lack of health care. For more information on ROC-Michigan, please visit:  www.rocmichigan.org.

Minsu Longiaru, Executive Director

Minsu Longiaru is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which was founded in June 2012.  ROC-Michigan is a non-profit, membership-based organization of restaurant workers dedicated to promoting working conditions and opportunities for advancement for all Southeast Michigan restaurant workers.
Under Ms. Longiaru’s leadership, ROC-Michigan has grown into the state’s largest, membership-based organization of restaurant workers, winning workplace justice campaigns for exploited restaurant workers, opening COLORS-Detroit, a non-profit training center that provides job training and placement assistance while serving as a full-service, locally sourced restaurant in downtown Detroit, and publishing research and policy reports that have received local and national media attention.
Prior to joining ROC-Michigan, Ms. Longiaru was an attorney and advocate for low-income workers and their families at the University of Michigan’s Poverty Law Outreach Program.  She also served as a Skadden Fellow at Greater Boston Legal Services legally representing and organizing day laborers and immigrant workers in Boston, and served as a Fulbright Fellow in Mexico City, Mexico researching transnational advocacy movements.  As a student, Ms. Longiaru was a leader and organizer in a labor, student, and community campaign that resulted in a groundbreaking living wage agreement for service workers at Harvard University. Ms. Longiaru received a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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