When you're picking out fresh ingredients to prepare a home-cooked meal for your family, you think you have control over the quality of the food. But due to some supermarkets' poor health and safety standards, you may be getting more than you bargained for.

Here are few things you need to know about supermarket health standards. First of all, inspections are performed by state and local officials, although national agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have some limited oversight. Consequently, what's considered a violation can vary by location; some states may require meats to be stored one or two degrees colder than other states demand.

In addition, many grocers receive shipments of meat, poultry, and produce from a distributor. This means that foods tainted with bacteria or other disease-causing germs could be shipped to and sold at multiple grocery stores and locations. That's why one type of food-tomatoes, cantaloupes, or spinach-can cause a nationwide scare.

Gross Grocers


Food handling and storage techniques by an individual store or poor management at a chain of stores can pose additional health risks as well. Here are four supermarkets that have a history of violations.

Safeway: This grocery chain manages more than 1,500 stores across the country. In addition to having multiple violations on record, the stores have recently recalled several products from their shelves. For example, the USDA issued a public health alert in December 2007 after nearly 40 people were sickened by ground beef contaminated with drug-resistant salmonella sold at Safeway stores. Packages of bread were also recalled in 2007 when it was discovered that some loaves had small pieces of wire inside.

Albertsons: Although this large chain supermarket has recalled 370,000 pounds of ground beef due to salmonella contamination (in a separate incident in April 2007), the bigger household safety threat was not a food product. In May 2007, Albertson's reached a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after it was learned that the stores were selling an ant and spider pesticide containing chlorpyrifos, which can be dangerous to children.

Food Lion: In addition to having multiple health and safety violations, Food Lion has been accused of breaking child labor laws. Food Lion never admitted to being guilty of the charges; however, an 85-store investigation by the Department of Labor said that the chain didn't pay workers overtime and employed children too young to work. Food Lion resolved the dispute by paying a $16.2 million settlement.

Ralph's and Vons: These two chains—plus Safeway and Albertsons—were sued for not paying their janitors for overtime and expecting them to work seven days a week. According to the Service Employees International Union, the chains paid a $22.4 million class action settlement to approximately 2,000 janitors for failing to have appropriately paid them for their work.