Death at the Supermarket – Killing Grandma . . . and the Rat-Boy.

Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com
Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com

grandma

Rat-boy

 

CHAPTER TWO

Killing Grandma, and the Rat-Boy

 

The kid stood before me, saying nothing, but looking a bit, shall we say—pensive—as his beady little eyes bore into me. I was surprised. In the few short hours that I had been training him, he didn’t seem to display much of an affinity for deep and serious thought. That was okay though, I pondered. As I’ve always said—you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

And then his nose twitched . . .

Gary was young, perhaps nineteen or twenty or so. Probably five feet nothing, and if his weight hit ninety-five pounds sopping wet, I would have been surprised. A narrow hatchet face. Buck teeth. A suggestion of facial hair just above an upper lip—almost whisker-like. He wouldn’t stick around long enough for me to learn much more. Matter of fact, I never even knew his last name. We spent eight hours together. From one o’clock in the afternoon one day, to ten that evening, and I was training him in the meat and seafood department of GSM. He would be what they called a “closer,” someone who puts everything away in the evening and cleans up before he (or she) goes home.

A really simple job, at the heart of it.

He listened very respectfully, as I went about the nightly routine. I showed him the ins and outs of closing the department each evening. I stressed cleaning and sanitizing, and making sure to never touch any cooked product with his bare little paws—make that hands. I stressed the importance of not letting one product touch another, or to place anything raw over the top of anything cooked. I told him stories. I edified him—and, I illuminated him.

He seemed to take it all in. I thought I had probably just trained GSM’s next long-term employee. I thought he just might be a rock-star.

And then he didn’t come back . . . ever.

The rat-boy was gone for good.

One thirty came the following afternoon. I was still alone. I was beginning to wonder if he would call off for the day for some reason. Maybe he was just running late. Then came the phone call. I picked it up. It was the Store Director. The big cheese. The head honcho. Mr. Big himself. Actually, in this case, it was Ms. Big. Her name was Adele Pensler, and she was one of the good ones. As in, a store director that actually cared a little-bit about the people that works for her, and she also cared, more than a little, about food safety.

She wanted me in her office. Now.

I arrived there a few minutes later, more than a little pensive myself. The director’s office had been informally named either the punishment room, or the re-education room, by those that had the dubious pleasure of having been invited inside.

I knocked politely and then walked through the door.

“What did you do to your trainee last night?” she asked.

“You mean the rat-boy?” I replied.

“Don’t call him that!” she snapped. “His name’s Gary.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I declared. “What do you mean?”

“He called me this morning,” Adele continued. “He said he was never coming back, because he didn’t want to kill grandma. He was almost sobbing when he told me.”

“Oh dear,” I hedged.

“Sit down, Larry, right across the desk from me, and tell me exactly what you said to Gary last night that scared him so badly, that after just one shift with you, he’s never, ever, coming back again.”

I eased into the chair. It creaked a little, just to add a little ominous flavor to the scene.

“And you better make it good,” she added for emphasis.

“I told him the story about killing grandma,” I said.

“Tell it to me,” Adele replied. “And I better like it,” she added again.

“Well,” I started. “I actually got the story from one of the Health Department instructors that teach the food safety course for the county. When he started the class, he told everyone that he would love to see the day when the county didn’t have to hold these classes anymore. And that, he said, was going to be when we all stopped killing people.”

Adele leaned forward in her chair—more interested now. “And exactly how are we killing people?” she asked.

“Well, that was my question too. And it was also the question of about half the class. They were all under the impression that if food bad enough to actually kill someone were to get out there and actually kill someone, it would be a pretty big story. Like six o’clock news big story.”

“I’d think so too,” Adele allowed. “Go on.”

“Well, the guy said that it almost never made the news, because we were actually killing people and no one knew it. Or more exactly, no one recognized it for what it was. And he even gave an example of how it happened. That is—how we were routinely killing grandma. And grandpa too. And middle-aged sick people. And oh yeah—he said we were also killing little kids sometimes too.”

Now Adele was really interested—leaning even more forward in her chair.

“Go on, Larry,” she prodded.

I did.

“This is the story he told. It’s about grandma. She’s been sick for a while. Maybe bad sick. Maybe she’s been fighting cancer, or some other horrible disease. Maybe she’s been in the hospital. Maybe she’s been receiving radiation and chemo-therapy. Maybe they are actually starting to work. She’s beginning to feel better. A lot better. Good enough to come home. She’s starting to think that maybe she might just beat this thing after all.”

“And then she’s dead,” I concluded.

“How?” Adele nearly shouted.

“Because we killed her. That’s how. Because when she started to feel better, she wanted to eat again. She got her appetite back again. And when she did, she wanted some of her old favorite foods again—the ones she had always loved. Her family is only too happy to comply, and rush off to the supermarket to buy all the stuff for the dinner.”

“Trouble is, no one realizes that she has a severely compromised immune system due to the treatment she had been receiving. Chemo drugs and radiation will both do that—killing as they do, a lot of healthy tissue right along with the cancerous tissue.”

“The loving son, daughter, or husband pick-up some meat, or seafood, or any one of dozens of deli dishes, or produce to serve with that dinner. Some of those things are probably intended to be eaten raw or cooked rare. And just one of those foods are contaminated—because someone touched a cooked product with his or her bare hands—hands that had just returned from the rest-room unwashed, and maybe carrying a simple flu or cold virus, or other largely harmless bacteria. Harmless to almost everyone—but not harmless to grandma.”

“They have a wonderful dinner. Most of the diners are fine. A couple are a little “off” after the meal. One or two may be ill for a few hours or a full day. But they all get over it. Everyone except grandma that is. She’s dead in her bed the next morning.”

Adele’s mouth is hanging open at this point—her eyes slightly larger.

“They have a real nice funeral for her too. And a real nice obituary in the local newspaper as well. It says what a sweet lady she was. A real pillar of the community. A leader in her local Church. A fine, fine woman. And every once in a while those obits will give a cause of death. In grandma’s case, it will probably say something like ‘Succumbed to a long-time illness. Donations made be made to The Cancer Society.’ But it wasn’t the cancer that killed her. It was us, because we didn’t care enough to stop and wash our hands, or we were too rushed by other customers or management to be able to stop and do it. It was us. We were the killers. But no one knew it for what it was. The health-department guy says it happens all the time. He said you could read these funeral notices in the paper any day of the week. He said God only knew how many times it was us that was the killer, and not the long-standing disease.”

Adele said nothing. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.

“He said it wasn’t just old sick folks either. Sometimes they were younger. Fighting AIDS, or other diseases that lower the immune response. He said it could also be children. A lot of children do not have fully developed and functioning immune systems yet. He said that no one could ever know for sure—but the death toll could be in the many thousands a year—unrecognized for what they are—the result of food-borne illnesses. Killed by unknowing, and sometimes uncaring, food service workers. Workers in restaurants, supermarkets, warehouses, and so forth. And he said that was why we had to keep on having these classes—to try to lower the count.”

Adele just stared a few moments more, and then, with a shake of her head, arose and slowly opened the door for me to leave.

“That’s a good story,” she said. “I’m glad you told it to me. And I want you to continue to tell that very same story to each and every person you train.”

And then she added; “And if the rat-boy doesn’t like the damned truth, then he can just go and work somewhere else.”

I returned to work that day, and a few days later began training another new employee. I told that person that very same story. I have been telling it ever since. I like to think that it did some good. I like to think, that maybe, somewhere along the line, it might have saved a life. Maybe even grandmas.

 

Here’s what I would like you to take from this chapter. If you are going to serve a meal to an individual with a weakened or compromised immune system—COOK EVERYTHING. If you are going to take this person out for a meal, please make sure that all the dishes served to this person are COOKED. This is what I want you to remember: A dish that is cold, has only put the bacteria or virus on hold. It’s still alive—and just waiting to strike. HEAT kills the bacteria or virus. Repeat after me: COLD puts the pathogens on hold—HEAT kills the pathogens—COOKING is good.

Eat well done and completely cooked food if there is anything whatsoever that may have compromised your immune system. The life you save may well be your own—or that of someone you love even more than yourself.

Thanks for reading. Next time . . . a new installment of THE RECKONING: The Ice Queen

Dumb joke of the day:

Dumb joke

The Reckoning: Part Two – Chapter Twelve . . . The Posse Forms

Reckoning

PART TWO

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

The Posse Forms

 

March 23, 2015

Bellevue, Washington

      Linh awoke with a start, her senses immediately on alert. The house was quiet and sullen; vast, deep and empty—much like a cave. Then the sound that woke her repeated. The doorbell. Arising from the bed, donning a robe and slippers, Linh made her way down the stairs as the bell chimed for the third time.

Swinging open the door a moment later, Linh was please to find a friendly face waiting on the other side. Their eyes met for a second as Linh quickly moved aside to allow Maggie Moran to enter.

“Sorry to barge in like this without warning,” Maggie began, “but I couldn’t sleep last night and needed to talk to someone. Colonel Bob used to be my sounding board. Sometimes I miss him so much my teeth ache.”

“No problem, Maggie. I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been thinking of giving you a call myself. You’re right. We do need to talk. We both have men we love. And they’re both in trouble.”

“I know it Linh. I’ve know it since Johnny had that late-night visitor.”

“Who was it, Maggie?”

“It was Matt, Linh. Oh, Johnny didn’t actually come right out and say it—but I knew.”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling he came to say goodbye.”

“How much has Johnny told you, Maggie?”

“Pretty much everything, Linh. I know about Matt, and I know about the watch.”

Linh let out a sigh. “I’m glad. I’ve hated keeping that secret. But I had to wait for Johnny to tell you. It just wasn’t my place.”

“That’s okay, Linh. I understand. And now I understand quite a lot about what you’ve been living with too.”

“Well, it was never easy, Maggie. And it’s extra hard now too, with little Albert on the way. You know about Roan and Aedan?”

“Yes. And Joshua too. I don’t think I’d trust him very much.”

“Well, that makes two of us. Matt certainly has some interesting choices to make in the not too distant future. Trouble is, I don’t know for sure if I’m going to be one of those choices or not.”

“And if you’re not, Linh?”

“Then I’m not—and that’s the end of that. I go on, by myself. Well, not exactly alone. Albert and I go on alone, together.”

“You’ll never be alone Linh. You have family and a wonderful group of friends. I’m one of them.”

“You sure are, Maggie. And I didn’t mean to exclude anyone. I love all you guys—one and all. But my future, Albert’s and my future, that will belong to me and no one else.”

“So what are we going to do sister?” Maggie asked with conviction.

“I don’t exactly know. But one thing I sure do know is this. We aren’t going to sit around here moping. I don’t have an idea in the world where Matt is right now. Do you know where Johnny is?”

“Yes. He’s in Detroit. At a downtown hotel. I tried calling this morning, but can’t seem to get through. You want to try him again on your phone?”

“Has he called you?”

“Yes. On the night he arrived. He was supposed to call again last night, but he never did.”

“That’s not much like Johnny.”

“I know. And that’s what worries me. It’s the main reason I was awake for most of the night, and the reason I’m here today. I’m scared.”

“You should be. It’s not at all like that man to not keep his word, or to forget anything. Tell you what Maggie—here’s my phone. Try his number right now, while I go in the office and fire-up the computer. I’m starting to get a feeling we might be needing it for some airline tickets.”

“Okay.”

Linh turned to go, but the Maggie’s voice stopped her short.

“I’m in love with Johnny, Linh. I think I actually fell in love with him the day I met him. They say that love at first sight is a fool’s dream—a myth. But I don’t know. I would have married him if he’d called me the very next day. I know that.”

“Have you and Johnny . . . you know?” Linh asked lamely.

“No. We came close, but we didn’t do it. And I don’t regret it either. Sometimes Linh, even most usually, the ways of the world just aren’t the best way. We didn’t want to do things the way everybody else seems to want to do them these days. Johnny and I wanted to wait. We wanted to do things right. My first husband, Bobby Moran—well, we didn’t wait. I loved Bobby to distraction, but I’ve always kind of regretted that one thing.”

Linh closed the distance between them in three steps, throwing her arms around Maggie and pulling her in tight. Lightly, she kissed the top of the older woman’s head. “That’s just fine, Maggie. As a matter of fact, that is absolutely perfect. I loved you and Johnny before. But now I just love you two even more. You both are one in a million.”

Maggie looked up and smiled. “Thanks, Linh. These days a lot of folks wouldn’t understand.”

“This one would, Maggie. Just for the record, Matt and I waited too. Matt’s like Johnny—he’s been around. And I didn’t exactly come to the marriage bed a virgin either. But I want to tell you, there’s nothing like a wedding night, and a first time—with a man you love—and are married to.”

There was a knock at the door. Both women jumped a little with the unexpectedness of it. Whoever was there had not used the doorbell. Linh made her way to the door. Tucking her right hand into the pocket of her robe, she gripped the small .380 automatic hidden inside, as she swung the door open with her left.

“I might have guessed,” she said with a smile, again standing aside and allowing Howard Carter to enter. “You don’t like electronics very much.”

“God invented knuckles before new-fangled doorbells, I always say,” Carter said with a smile as he made his way into the living room. Seeing Maggie, he crossed the room to her and hugged her. Maggie grinned with the additional attention.

“I’m glad to find you here, Maggie. I need to talk to both of you, and I’m glad you two are together.”

“What’s going on Howard?” Linh asked.

“Lots. Have either one of you heard anything from either Johnny or Matt?” Both women shook their heads negatively.

“Johnny was going to call Maggie last night, but he didn’t. Do you know anything Howard?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid I do.”

“What?”

“Detroit is on lock-down. There are very few calls going in or out. No flights into or out of Detroit Metro either. In other words, most communications are impossible.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Because they had a major terror-attack last night. Two downtown Hotels were bombed. And I mean bombed. As in blown-up. Totally destroyed. A one story Motel 6 on Woodward Avenue, and the Hilton Garden Inn on Gratiot, along with a private residence in the burbs. The Hilton is, or rather was, a nine-story hotel. About half an hour after the bomb went off on the second floor, the top seven floors on one entire side of the hotel pancaked down onto the others, just like in the World Trade Towers years ago. Between that and the Motel 6, there are twenty-eight known dead, and probably sixty or so injured. That count is going to go up, they say. They’re still digging out the dead this morning. It’s all over the news, and internationally as well.”

“Muslims?” Linh said.

“Likely—but not confirmed at this time. No one is claiming credit.”

Howard and Linh turned toward Maggie, and were surprised to see that she had sat down on the sofa and was staring at the floor.

“Maggie—are you alright?”

“Did you know where Johnny was staying, Howard?”

“No.”

“The Hilton Garden Inn. On the second floor. He’s dead, Howard.”

Howard’s face turned ashen as he sat down beside her and grabbed her roughly by both shoulders. “Bullshit, Maggie. Don’t you dare think that. Now even for a second. I’ve seen that man come though some mighty tough scrapes in his life. The bastard has more Irish luck in him than a full brigade of marching buck-naked transgendered leprechauns at a Pat Roberts rally—and that’s a hellofa lot.”

Maggie smiled weakly and nodded her head. “All right. He’s alive then, Howard—until we find out different—okay?”

“Damned right Maggie. Listen girl, I know we haven’t really gotten off on the right foot, you and I. But I want you to know that I think Johnny is one lucky son-of-a-bitch to have found you. And there’s no way in Hell he isn’t coming back for you.”

“Thanks Howard.”

“What was Johnny doing in Detroit anyhow, Howard?” Linh asked.

“I sent him there. Me, and the President of the United States.”

“The President? Why?”

“To kill three men.”

“Because?”

“Because they’re mad-dog terrorists and they needed to be killed. That’s why.”

“Why Johnny, Howard? What’s so special about a middle-aged private-detective with a bad back? What makes him so damned lethal over—oh, I don’t know, any number of other hit men you might have found listed in the phone book?”

“You bloody well know the answer to that one. Because he has the watch. And the watch likes him. It’ll work for him.”

“And that makes him a killing machine in your book—doesn’t it Howard?”

“Yeah—pretty much.”

“Well Howard—was it worth it? Maybe your best friend is dead. Was it worth it? Apparently you and the prez sent him straight into a trap.”

“It looks that way. And I intend to find out why. And yeah Linh. It was worth it. You bet. I’d do it again in a second too. And I’ll even tell you why. Because Johnny wanted to do it. And because even if he has given his life to protect what, a hundred, a hundred and fifty or so children—then yeah—it was worth it. Because he’s a man Linh, a real damned straight-shooting man with a set of balls like nobody else I ever knew. Right out of frickin’ Zane Grey novel. And you’ve gotta know there aren’t that many of them around anymore. Once he knew what the stakes were—I couldn’t have stopped him.”

Linh dropped her eyes to the floor resignedly.

“What do we do?” Maggie quietly asked. “Forget about blame. What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to go find him—that’s what the hell we’re gonna do.” Howard answered. “Dead, alive, or anywhere in between. We form a posse, saddle up and go find him. We do for him what he’d do for us. We get him back. Then we get the sons-of-bitches that did this.”

“The three of us?” Linh asked.

“Yeah—the three of us. That’s what we’ve got, so that’s what we use. I sure could use Matt too, right about now—but he’s checked out. Any idea at all where he is, Linh?”

“No. None.”

“Then we go it alone.”

“How are we going to get there?”

“Easy. The private jet that took Johnny to Detroit is back and sitting out at the airport right now. I’ll call the pilot and tell him to get his ass out of bed and get down there and fly us. There are plenty of airports just outside the city where we can land.”

“And if you can’t find him?”

“Then I’ll fly the damned thing myself. I didn’t spend eight years in the Air Force for nothing. I’ve had a pilot’s license for years.”

“Jets?”

“Single engine Cessna—but close enough. They all work about the same.”

Linh smiled weakly. “Howard, you constantly amaze me.”

“Yeah, you and everybody else, little-sister. Go pack a bag.”

“Do they have stores in Detroit, Howard?”

“I expect they do.”

“Then I don’t need to pack. I’ll change into clothes and be ready in five minutes.”

“Sweet, Linh. One more thing.”

“What’s that Howard?”

“Pack your hardware. And bring a second set for Maggie. I’ve got a real strong feeling we’re going to be needing them. You know how to use a gun Maggie?”

“Sure. Couldn’t be married to Bobby Moran and not know that.”

“Then stand up, raise your right hand, and repeat after me.”

“Repeat what?”

“The oath. You’ve just joined the Police Department

 

Thanks so much for reading. Back in a couple of days with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET Killing Grandma, and the Rat-Boy. Until then, take care, and have a wonderful and safe Labor Day.

Dumb Joke of the Day:

Blond

Death at the Supermarket – Introduction and Chapter One

Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com
Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com

  INTRODUCTION

 

 

It all started simply enough. With a huge banner that stretched out over the apparel entrance to the big-box store. It said “Now Hiring,” in big, bold letters. Very inviting. It looked like a nice place to shop—and to work. GSM (Giant Stuff Mart) sold a lot of stuff alright—close to a quarter of a million different items. All the way from baby clothes to motor-oil, and gardening supplies to groceries. The food side was about half of the entire store. It was a really big deal, and by far, where most of the money was made. The grocery side of the store also had fresh meat and seafood counters. That’s where I would end up.

I had just moved into town and was looking for a job. In my old state of residence, I had been a health-care employee, and had done that for quite a number of years. I was getting a little burned out on it, to tell you the truth, and my lovely wife knew it.

“Why don’t you apply for a job here?” she asked. “It would be a change of pace for you. Besides that,” she continued, “they’ll pay you more and treat you better.”

So I did. And yes I was—hired that is. In the meat and seafood department. And yes, my wife was correct by half. They did pay more. Better treatment . . . well, that is an entirely different matter, and there will be a lot more on that a little later on, and why that is important to you.

I would remain in the employ of GSM for over eight years after that, and brother do I want to tell you . . . I learned a boatload. Literally, the good, the bad, and the really, really flat-out butt-ugly truth of the retail food business.

Like my good friend Johnny O’Brien always says, I know some things. And yes, a lot of them could actually, and literally, save your life, or the lives of your loved ones.   I invite you to join with me as we explore a lot of those very critical, and life-saving areas. I’ll try to tell you the things you need to know to keep yourself and your family safe—and I’ll try to relate those things to you in a humorous and non-dry way. But when I make a serious point—as in one that has the potential to put you in a hard box with soft lighting and soft music—I’m going to let you know. I’ve seen way too much sickness, and too much death in my time, to want to sugar-coat anything.

I’ve worked at more retail grocery outlets than just one, although the majority of my experience has been with GSM. Those who know me will recognize it easily. That’s why I want to say, right here at the outset, that GSM is not unique in any way. There are dozens of large corporate owned supermarket chains in the United States, and in the world. There are hundreds of thousands of smaller independent stores, and millions of other outlets that sell groceries, or food prepared on site, like restaurants and snack counters. Every single thing that I am going to tell you applies to each and every one, to one degree or another. GSM is not much better, nor very much worse than the others. Some establishments do an incredibly good job of ensuring food safety. Others—well, not so much. I am going to try to teach you how to tell the difference. And what you can do to make a difference as well. That’s why I am including a call to action at the end of the chapters. For those that want to get involved, there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

I’m also going to be talking about a lot of people in this book. Most are not individuals—but compilations of various characters I have known over the years. No one should take any sort of personal issue, because the odds are astronomical that it is not you I am referring to—but rather several different individuals at once. Each and every business mentioned herein has been given a fictional name, as well as the people talked about. As stated in the front of this book, all real-people, and real-place references have been changed—to protect both the innocent and the guilty equally.

Come with me then, as we travel down the supermarket aisles, and head toward those meat and seafood cases.

Welcome to my world, the real-life world of Larry the fish-guy.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The Out of Touch Food Manager     

 

     I swear to you, I could almost feel her coming long before I caught sight of her rounding the corner. The ground shook slightly. Mary was the Food Manager, the store second-in-command, and she wasn’t a very petite woman. Around a hundred and sixty pounds or so. Trouble was, that was on only one side. Put together, both sides equaled a lady of imposing dimensions. Mary carried a lot of weight—in more ways than one.

Of course I fully realize that much excess weight is a serious disease, and often an indication of rather severe emotional problems that might make it hard to focus on your job. I sympathize with that. I get that. But not when it interferes with job number one—food safety. And that was the problem. Mary rarely left the comfortable chair in her office to take anything but a perfunctory look at her domain. Unfortunately, that included the issues of food safety. One thing I want you to understand about Mary—she’s a real nice lady—outside of work. Probably not a mean bone in her body—outside of work. Probably someone you could enjoy knowing—again, on the outside. Might have a good time sitting with her at the local pub and kicking back a couple of beers. Probably a great friend. But at work . . . a complete disaster. Her “laissez-faire” (hands-off) managerial style could get a person killed—either by flat-out ignorance, or by accident—likely good intentions notwithstanding.

Mary had one, and only one consideration and focus when it came to running the food department of this major-chain grocery store. And that was that she had a whole lot more layers of management above her, and even more yet at the national corporation that owned the chain. Her concern was for them, not the customers.

Each and every single one of those higher-up managers had one thing in common. That was, they each felt the need to protect (at any and all costs) the managers above them—and so it went, all the up to and including the President of the chain, and the CEO of the national corporation. That was what their jobs depended on. That, and making the company lots and lots of money. Completely aside from their monthly salaries, each and every one of them received annual bonuses (based on profits) and they received them just before Christmas every year. Sometimes they amounted to quite a bit of money. At the highest levels, we’re talking millions. Powerful motivation. Keep your job and get a bonus—just in time for Christmas shopping. Only two things you had to do to make that happen. Make sure that the company had very few loses, and make sure there was very little, if any, down time. You see—time is money—on steroids, in the grocery business. It is very, very competitive, and profit margins are slim.

I’ve called the store Giant Stuff Mart (GSM) and now I’ll name the national parent corporation Super Giant Stuff Mart (SGSM). In the department of GSM where I worked, we sold meat and seafood. There were two display cases. One for the meat, and one for the seafood. Each was twelve feet long. The front-opening kind (a lot more on that later). That’s a lot of meat and seafood. And on this particular day, it was a lot of meat and seafood that was getting warm and going bad—fast.

To be safe, and to comply with Health Department regulations, the cases have to be refrigerated to a temperature of forty-one degrees Fahrenheit, or preferably lower. They cannot remain above forty-one degrees for more than two hours, and be in compliance. This day they were temping at forty-five to forty-six degrees—and it was going on an hour and a half. There was a problem somewhere, and we tried our best to find out where it was. No luck. We couldn’t find any obvious issues anywhere, so it was time to call down the big (no joke intended here) guns. The Food Manager and her assistant. We’ll call him John. He was like a shadow. Where Mary went, there also would be John. But then we always liked to joke that management traveled in packs.

Now, you need to understand that the Health Department rules covering this situation would call for the removal (or pulling) of the product (the meat and seafood) out of the case immediately. Then it would be put onto rolling meat racks and rolled into a large walk-in cooler, where it would be largely unavailable for sale. A repairman would be called to service the cases. It would probably take at least twenty-four hours. This was the proper protocol. This would save not only the product, but potentially, customer’s health (and maybe their lives) as well. But guess what? That would result in down-time—the kiss of death to profits and those lovely annual bonuses—not only for management employees of GSM, but SGSM as well. Additionally, too much down-time, and Ms. Mary and Mr. John could chance losing not only their annual bonus checks, but their jobs as well.

To make a long story short—it wasn’t about to happen.

Mary and John lumbered onto the scene. Us poor grunts (the lowly paid sales clerks) patiently explained the problem. Blank stares from both Mary and John. No action. None. No call to pull the product or even ice it (adding shaved ice to the case). Nothing. Mary instructed us to “keep the doors closed as much as possible” (while still opening them to make sales of course) and continue to take the temperatures, and report to them every two hours. We did. Still no action. Not that day, not that week, and not at the end of the month either.

What I am telling you is that two professional food managers (both food safety trained) of a very major grocery chain-store sold tainted and very unsafe meat and seafood for weeks and weeks at a time. Did anyone notice the four or five degree difference in the product? Yeah—probably they did. In some cases, this food might not have seemed of very high quality to the purchaser. Perhaps they didn’t like the way it looked or smelled after cooking. Perhaps they returned it to the store for a refund. Maybe they didn’t. Perhaps they threw it out. Perhaps they served it anyway. Maybe it didn’t make them sick. Or maybe it did. Might have made them ill for an afternoon. Perhaps a whole day. Maybe they put it down to a “touch of the flu.” Chances are, the next day they felt fine.

But it didn’t kill anyone—right? . . .

Well—not so fast. We don’t know that for sure. And I’ll tell you why. In the very next chapter—entitled, “Killing Grandma, and The Rat-Boy.”

It’s a killer of a story.

Stay tuned for that. But here’s what I want you to take from this first chapter.

 

(1) Purchase “fresh” meat and seafood from large corporate chain-stores at your own risk and peril. And when you do, always remember those layers upon layers of management worried about their jobs—and those sizable end-of-year bonuses. You are “probably” (but not always) better off at a smaller and more specialized meat and seafood shop. Shopping where you know the people, and the people know you, is never a bad motto and strategy. I know for a plain fact that counter people are much more likely to warn customers they know and are friendly with away from potentially bad food than those they don’t know. You’ll find this type of personal service most usually (but not always) in smaller shops.

 

(2) Those twelve-foot long cases? Some have temperature gauges on the outside. Where the customer can see them. At the very least demand that employees place a (really cheap, but effective) stem thermometer in the case facing toward the customers. No fibbing with this set-up. Effective, but not as good as the build-in type. Shop in the stores and shops that have those. They cost more money for the store to buy and install, but it could very well be a matter of life and death.

 

Your life . . . and your death.

 

Thanks so much for reading. Back in a few days with a new installment of THE RECKONING.

Dumb Joke of the Day:

Bob