Food safety and security

The not-so-super Cayucos Supermarket

SLO County Environmental Health Services shuttered the Cayucos Supermarket late December because of significant code violations, including a rodent infestation.

by Stacey Warde

A county health inspector shuttered the Cayucos Supermarket in late December because of a number of “significant code violations,” including an infestation of mice and rats.

An official from SLO county’s environmental health services, according to the Tribune, investigated a complaint from a customer and found signs of “bite marks,” “droppings,” and “contaminated surfaces” throughout the store. The inspector gave the owner a few days to clean up the mess.

When the official returned, however, he found nothing had been done to fix the problem and new evidence of rodent activity in the store. So he ordered the place closed, leaving Cayucos without a local grocery. For how long, we don’t know.

Days before the closure, we visited the store and detected a strong and repugnant odor of urine. It’s not the first time we’ve noticed foul odors in the market. At times, the place has smelled of rotting carcass. Not the best environment in which to make food purchases.

Once, as noted in “Obsolesence and doing business,” we observed the owner spraying the fresh produce section with a can of RAID. We since limited our purchases to packaged items like beer, thinking we’d be safe. It goes without saying, wipe off your cans and bottles before drinking.

We’re not the only patrons who have noticed the decrepit conditions of the Cayucos Supermarket, which has been in operation since 1960 and doesn’t appear to have had any upgrades since. The cold storage units are run down, inefficient and often leak water onto the floors. The odors, we’ve been told, are caused by clogged drainage traps.

As the community adjusts to the closure, other long-term issues and complaints about the market have surfaced.

Corrie S. from Fresno, for example, had this to say in her one-star Yelp review: “So smelly. I couldn’t even stay long enough to buy food. Needs a total overhaul. The produce had flies around it. The shelves were dusty. I would rather travel to the next town to buy food.”

Overall, reviews of the market seem positive but it’s worth noting that they speak more of the warm staff and the sandwiches sold in the back deli than about the quality of the food or the appearance and cleanliness of the place.

We know also that locals love the market for its convenience, selection, reasonable prices and helpful and familiar staff. They love the deli, a separate business located in the back of the store, which offers unique home-style sausages in addition to delicious sandwiches.

Yet, in light of all the good that can be said about the market, we’d like to suggest that the shutdown demonstrates a failure of responsibility to provide food that is safe and secure to our visitors and local community.

Food safety and security are fundamental—as a basic human right—and paramount to the health of any community, large or small. We have a right, as enumerated by the World Health Organization, the United Nations, as well as by San Luis Obispo County’s Environmental Health Services, to food that is free from disease, contamination and sabotage.

Additionally, the closure runs the risk of creating a food desert for a community that already struggles to make sure all of its citizens are adequately and safely fed. The Cayucos Community Church serves weekly many familiar friends and faces with donated food.

The senior center also provides food items for those who are unable to afford groceries.

The closure is one more block in the stream of healthy food options to consumers who receive assistance or who are unable to drive to neighboring communities to shop for groceries.

As a purveyor of “healthy food,” however, our market failed to deliver. It did not meet the basic requirement of providing safe, wholesome, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and other food items to visiting and local buyers.

The closure also affects employees who now find themselves without a job. We lament their loss and hope they will not be long without work.

We have no idea if or when the store will reopen. The owner must sanitize the entire market and seal all the openings through which rodents might find their way. That seems like a vast undertaking, given the condition of the building and the store’s outdated storage. We wish them luck, and hope that, if they do reopen, they will be more mindful of the safety and security of the food they sell.

Meanwhile, BizBuySell.com has the place listed for sale at $3 million. Perhaps we can lure a buyer who values providing a safe, clean and healthy food environment to the local community and the many travelers who pass through here. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. Daniella Magnano contributed to this article. She runs Spumoni Egg Farm where she keeps chickens and delivers fresh, healthy eggs to friends and people in need in the community.

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