Surprise Carry-Out Inspections Find Health Hazards, Drug Concerns

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UPDATED: Friday February 7, 2014 11:39 AM

Carry-outs and convenience stores are lifesavers when you need to pick up something quick for home. But some are not always good neighbors, turning into havens for underage liquor sales, health hazards and illegal food stamp use.

10TV recently followed a city task force whose job it is to keep them in line.

The Nuisance Abatement Group arrives at the carry-outs without warning, asking questions like, “Where is your liquor permit?”

NAG is made-up of investigators from the fire department, health department, narcotics and vice-squad - even a state liquor control liaison is on the team.

The group leader (who works undercover and cannot be identified) says code violations, safety and health hazards, illegal gambling, and drugs are just some of the violations they find. “The big violations are synthetic drugs displayed and stuff like that and then we also look for violations as indicated, like selling single cigarettes to minors and making sure the store has their liquor permit and it’s properly posted.”

They'll scour every aisle, shelf and storage area. Even baby formula gets a look. Investigators say they sometimes find formula stolen from major grocery stores on carryout shelves.

Cigarette racks get the once over too. Open packs can signal trouble.

“It is illegal to sell single cigarettes to anybody. You can't break open a pack and sell one individual, okay?”

The detective says only individually wrapped tobacco products, bearing a barcode, can be sold that way. But, that warning was nothing compared to what happened when the store clerk tried to hand over the gun he kept under the counter.
 
“Next time a police officer asks you is there a gun, step away from the gun, tell him where the gun's at. Okay? And then he'll retrieve the gun, alright?  Hold your hands up like this. Say 'I have a gun it's under the counter. Don't reach for it, it's like the one I carry on my hip, I'm going to shoot you,” the detective told the man behind the counter.

Drug paraphernalia is also a common find at some neighborhood carry outs. Water pipes called Hookahs, glass smoking bowls, and marijuana grinders can be purchased. By law they're all perfectly legal, as long as their marketed "for tobacco use only."  The undercover officer said, “If they want to make profit, it’s legal. They can continue selling it. But if they have a conscience about the neighborhood and they want to be a good neighbor, they’ll make the right decision.”

The team found a different headache at a store on Clime Road. Health inspectors didn't like the temperature readings found in this cooler. Then, a thermometer was jabbed inside some sausage confirmed their fears. All food items are supposed to be kept at 41 degrees or colder. The thermometer registered 52 degrees.

The inspectors ordered every perishable food item in the cooler to be thrown out - bacon, cheese, lunch meat, and eggs.

Drive-Thru's can present inspection challenges too.

One will get written up for having an exit door blocked by a gate, and an extension cords snaking thru the ceiling. But the owner has a couple of bigger problems on his hands. He couldn't produce a license to sell bingo cards. By state law, the proceeds must go to charity. No documentation means confiscation.

He'll also have to explain a packet of green material labeled "gas." The narcotics officer on the team suspects it's synthetic marijuana. It'll be analyzed in a lab. If it turns out to be dope, a drug possession charge will be filed, and that will count against the store's liquor permit.

If the State Liquor Control Commission decides to yank the license, it could spell the end of this business. Officers say - like many beer and wine carry outs - most of the revenue comes from selling booze.

Last year, NAG inspected 112 locations and wrote almost 800 warnings and citations.

Last month, Columbus City Council filed liquor permit objections with the State against roughly a dozen repeat offenders.

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