Produce Market Cleanup | NBC Southern California

Produce Market Cleanup



    Rats, sludge and trash -- that was the best way to describe one of LA's largest wholesale produce markets -- but not anymore. NBC4's Investigative reporter Joel Grover broke the story about filthy food from the market, ending up in thousands of local eateries. He reported the details of what appears to be a massive clean up.

    Video: Cleanup | Video: Supervisors React

    February 2007 - The health department has moved quickly, in the wake of our investigation to clean up the 7th Street produce, the source of food for so many well-known restaurants. The images we saw Thursday were a sharp contrast to what our hidden cameras captured just three weeks ago.

    The 7th Street Market hasn't looked this clean in years.

     It was there that we saw rats crawling around boxes of fruits and dirty water.

     Pouring onto vegetables. And workers urinating right out in the open.

     The images angered L.A. County supervisors, who ordered the health department to clean things up.

     SUPERVISOR DON KNABE: We have a responsibility, we separated your department out for accountability.

     GROVER: Their concern was over the potential for contamination. Fresh produce next to trash and pooling water that had extremely high levels of bacteria.

     But Thursday those dirty conditions have been cleaned up and vendors now have to follow strict rules.

     PEDRO ASTORGA, PRODUCE VENDOR: It's a little harder to work but it's working out better now.

     GROVER: Where there once was trash and produce stacked next to each other, now there is open space for parking.

     Terrance Powell is Chief of LA County's Environmental Health.

     POWELL: Food and so forth is staged at one part of the complex and the trash, where it should be is in the center.

     GROVER: And take a look at the market's bathroom (video shows bathroom). This was three weeks ago. Now it's been painted, has working hot water, soap and towels.

     POWELL: Clearly it's going to take oversight and we're going to need a presence here and that's what we're doing.

     GROVER: Health officials have also taken action behind the scenes, temporarily closing 63 vendors for code violations and putting three others out of business. They've also provided information to LA's city attorney for possible criminal prosecution against vendors and even the owner of the market complex, Meruelo Maddux properties.

     STEVEN LONDON, CONSULTANT FOR PRODUCE MARKET: You'll never see anything like that again.

     GROVER: Steven London is a health safety consultant hired by the market because of our investigation.

     LONDON: The feature that was run on NBC was a wake-up call and showed us that we needed to take care of business.

     GROVER: And as a result of our investigation, other wholesale produce markets are also being forced to clean up. In addition to the 7th Street Market, health officials also performed 64 inspections at other produce facilities resulting in 33 closures. So clearly there's an increase in oversight of the entire industry.