CLEVELAND -- Mold. Rat infestations. Dirty, rusty equipment. These are just a few of the violations state inspectors uncovered at local companies that process and ship food products destined for your dinner table, potentially endangering your health.
The state Agriculture Department issued its most serious violations -- 36 in total -- to nearly 2 dozen local wholesalers and food processors in the last two years, records show. Inspectors also wrote 145 less serious violations to more than 100 companies.
One of those wholesalers -- Minneapolis Flour Co., which distributes baking ingredients to companies all over northeast Ohio -- got cited three times after inspectors found rodent droppings and a dead mouse in the cooler.
Channel 3 News contacted several of the warehouse and food processor companies that were cited and all said the problems have been corrected and they continue to work with the state to make sure the issues don't return.
In addition, Max Hess, who owns Minneapolis Flour Co., said his products have never been linked to an illness.
Still, the owner of the bakery, Breadsmith, in Lakewood, which purchases ingredients from Minneapolis, said he would have liked to have known of the violations.
"We're eating this stuff. I eat this stuff," said Ginius Macys. "It's like, I want to know what it's made out of, where it comes from, is there a problem with one of my suppliers...People should know about these things."
There's good reason for concern. The federal government estimates that 3,000 Americans die every year from food-borne illness. One in six get sick from food, tainted with bacteria, parasites and other, unknown problems.
But unlike some local and county health departments, the state does not post the violations on its Internet Web site due to budgetary problems.
So Channel 3 News has done the work for them after getting the reports under the state Open Public Records Act.
You can find notice violations, which require immediate attention by companies, and priority violations, which are less serious but must be fixed.
Two wholesalers for Bo Loong, one of Cleveland' most popular Chinese restaurants, got cited by state inspectors.
Bo Loong's owner said he had no idea the suppliers had violations.
"I'm very concerned," said Anthony Yuen, who owns Bo Loong. "Any one of them could contaminate and bring it to us and we don't know and give it to our customer and they get sick."
Inspectors wrote up wholesaler Tink Holl after discovering dirt in the cooler, mold, contaminated products and rat droppings.
And wholesaler CA United Trading Inc. was cited for preparing food in an unauthorized area, allowing water to drip onto products from a leaky roof and having rodents.
Channel 3 News went back to see if the violations at CA United Trading had been fixed, but at least one violation hadn't been fixed. A flock of birds was still living in the warehouse.
Bo Loong customer Carmela Williams said she assumed the ingredients the restaurant uses was "safe."
"You made me want to go get my stomach pumped now that I've just eaten in here," Williams said. "I try to be safe at home so I would be concerned about birds and bird droppings."