After last month's devastating flooding in Ohio, Giant Food Inc. joined the relief effort by sending a truckload of canned and packaged foods and beverages from its Jessup warehouse.
But when the shipment arrived in Shadyside, Ohio, it was hard for the recipients to appreciate the supermarket chain's generosity. The food was infested with fruit flies, mold and maggots.
"After being in that truck in 100 degree-plus heat for hours, you can imagine what it was like in there," said Mark Roeder, public affairs coordinator for Giant.
Volunteers unloading the food for the flood victims last week told Giant officials they had to discard nearly three-quarters of it.
Officials of the Landover-based company apologized and conceded that they should not have sent damaged products to the relief workers in the Ohio town hit June 14 by flooding.
"It was definitely a human error on our end," Roeder said.
Roeder said the company is issuing Shadyside an apology and a check for $10,000 toward the relief effort.
The food came from Giant's collection of damaged supplies usually donated to area food banks. The food is considered "edible, but not salable" because the cans are dented or packages are mislabeled or damaged, Roeder said. Ordinarily, food bank workers sort the food and discard spoiled or leaking items.
"Those people are trained and experienced. They know what's salvageable and what's not," Roeder said.
He also attributed the spoilage to the fact that the shipment remained in the truck for 50 hours, sometimes in high temperatures.
"It was loaded on a Friday and wasn't unloaded until Sunday," he said. "We should have known there would be a problem."
Roeder said the incident is not related to problems state inspectors cited at the Jessup facility in January.
Inspectors from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found a leaky roof, spillage and insufficient lighting in several areas, said Betty Harden, chief of the department's division of food control.
After the Shadyside incident, the state re-inspected the warehouse last week and found that Giant had corrected all of the problems for which it had been cited, Harden said.
"It's basically well-kept up there," Harden said.
The company routinely donates damaged food products to the Maryland Food Bank and the Capital Area Community Food Bank. Last year, Giant warehouses in the District, Virginia and Maryland donated about 515,000 pounds of food to those groups. In addition, 100 individual charities, approved by the food banks, were allowed to go directly to stores for nearly $1 million worth of produce, bread and other perishable items.
The company also joins other area companies and groups with seasonal food drives, such as "Bags of Plenty" in the Baltimore area and "Scouting for Food" in the Washington area.
The idea of helping Ohio came from the community of Shadyside in Anne Arundel County, looking out for its identically named sister city in the Midwest.
Roeder said Giant was contacted by the Maryland Secretary of State's Office and asked to help.
Giant has assisted with such distant donations in the past, as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, but Roeder said there usually is plenty of need closer to home.