D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D) showed up last month at an allegedly rat- infested produce shop in Northeast just as health inspectors were preparing to close it for unsanitary conditions, according to officials and inspection reports.
Earlier Monday, The Titan of Trinidad blog reported that Sam Wang Produce in the Florida Avenue Market was ordered closed Dec. 21 after health inspectors found “numerous rodent droppings” on the floor and in crates throughout the storage room. Rats had also chewed through egg shell cartons, according to the inspection report, obtained by the Titan of Trindad.
The inspector informed the owner that the establishment was being shuttered until owners could get the rodent problem under control. But 22 minutes later, according to the report, an unidentified council member walked into the produce shop and asked to speak to the inspector’s supervisor.
“The City Council member asked for the area supervisor's boss' name, she provided it, then informed him that he has already been contacted. She further informed him that the Program Manager was on the way to the establishment,” the report states. “The Program Manager arrived within thirteen minutes and discussed the situation with the City Councilmember who then asked for the Program Manager's boss' name.”
The report does not identify the council member, but a Health Department official confirmed for the Washington Post that Orange was the unidentified council member.
According to Office of Campaign Finance records, the owners of the produce company and an affiliated company have been a major contributor to Orange’s political campaigns dating to his run for mayor in 2006.
Orange did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday evening. No one answered calls at the produce market.
Orange staffer James D. Brown said the grocer sought Orange’s help in being allowed to reopen in a timely manner.
“A proposed December 26th re-inspection would have caused 40 employees to be off work without pay during the Christmas holiday, loss of business income, loss of DC tax revenue and effect consumers who purchase wholesale produce for their business operations,” Brown said.
According to the Health Report, the agency’s health manager was not able to contact her boss for the council member. But he took the council member’s concerns back to top officials at the Health Department.
“After the Program Manager discussed the situation with the Deputy Director and Director, they determined that the establishment should be closed,” the report states. “We returned to the establishment, provided a copy of the inspection report which was signed by the person in charge, placed a "FOOD ESTABLISHMENT CLOSURE NOTICE" outside the establishment, and informed them that they must close immediately.”
In addition to rats, the Health Department noted the store did not have a certified food production manager on duty, failed to supply hand soap at a sink, and allowed “moisture, pooled water, and food debris” to gather on the floor of the walk-in refrigerator, among other violations.
The shop reopened the following day after it was re-inspected and provided proof it was working with an exterminator to eradicate the rats, said Najma Roberts, a Health Department spokeswoman.
Roberts said officials were not influenced by Orange’s visit.
“It was inspected and we still closed it,” Roberts said. “We required him to clean it up.”
This report has been updated.