5 Towns Rabbis Want Answers On Zomick’s Infestation

Did kosher certifiers know about failed inspections? Popular challah maker says it ‘adheres to highest standards.’

07/17/13
Staff Writer
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Zomick’s Bakery of Inwood, L.I., whose challahs and cakes are a staple in Jewish homes from Canarsie to California, insisted this week that its products are of the highest quality and that state food code violations for vermin infestation were problems of the past.

“While we may have had a few isolated incidents years ago, the bakery adheres to the highest standards of safety and has passed all recent inspections,” it said in a statement.

But a review of inspections conducted by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets found that since the company opened its Inwood plant at 85 Inip Drive in 2005, it has failed nearly 60 percent of inspections because of vermin infestation: mice, cockroaches, rats and live birds. The inspections were first reported by FiveTownsPatch.com.

OK Kosher Certification in Brooklyn and the Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway both certify Zomick’s products as kosher. On Monday, Rabbi Chaim Fogelman of OK Kosher did not reply to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment. And Rabbi Yosef Eisen of the Vaad did not to respond to six phone calls to his office.

Rabbi Hershel Billet, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Woodmere, L.I., said in an e-mail that he had just learned of the failed inspections.

“I do not know if it is true,” he wrote. “But we are in the process of investigating what the Vaad knows.”

Rabbi Kenneth Hain, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, L.I., said the Orthodox rabbis in the Five Towns want to learn whether the Vaad knew of these inspections, because the Vaad is “responsible to the rabbis, who are in turn responsible to the community.”

“The Vaad is a broad communal organization and this is something that, when I read about it, I was appalled and definitely want some answers,” he said.

Among the answers Rabbi Hain said he is seeking is: “What is the industry standard” for vermin problems, and why the media was disclosing the violations rather than the agency that conducted the inspections.

Another question might be how state health standards and kosher supervision standards compare.

A spokesman for the state said in an e-mail that food establishments are “required by law to post the dates and results of their most recent inspection conspicuously at each public entrance to make sure the public is aware. According to our inspection reports, they are complying with this provision of Agriculture and Markets law.”

He noted: “By practice, our Food and Safety division does not share inspection records with third parties.”

Asked why the facility passed an inspection when dead vermin were present but failed when live vermin were present, he said that in order to fail “the deficiency must be categorized as a critical deficiency, which means ‘likely to contribute to contamination.’ Current insect and rodent activity in food areas usually meets that definition.”

During an inspection on May 18, 2006, for example, an inspector reported seeing two or three “live birds” fly through an open window and into the “processing area … and to fly over the dough preparation area.”

Zomick’s maintained in an e-mail interview that there “was never any finding of infestation in any product. Thus, there was no food safety or kashrus issue.”

It said when asked about one inspection last October that infestation was found in goods that had come “onto [the] loading dock from supplier. Never reached production area. Had just come in, was destroyed and would have been destroyed as employee would have observed them prior to bringing them into area.”

The October inspection also found five live cockroaches in the crevices of wheels on one worktable in the section of the baking area where knishes are made. Zomick’s said the worktable was “one out of dozens” and that the vermin were in a “crevice, never on surface and all products were tested.” Regarding other cockroaches spotted on two other worktables in the scraping area, Zomick’s said they too were in crevices and “no food is even involved here.”

Zomick’s insisted that beetle contamination found on a bag of cornmeal was from an “outside source” and that such bags are “usually inspected before being brought in and were destroyed and always would be destroyed.”

The state spokesman said that for the state to close a facility and remove its license to operate, the facility must fail “four or more consecutive inspections. This establishment has previously failed a number of inspections, but not four or more consecutively.”

In fact, Zomick’s failed its first two inspections, passed the third and failed the next three before passing the following one.

The spokesman said inspections are not pre-announced but that the department’s practice is “to revisit facilities with histories of recurring food safety violations within six months.” Thus, the next inspection is expected by August.

Rabbi Luzer Weiss, director of the Kosher Unit within the state’s Division of Food Safety, said his inspectors used to visit kosher facilities three times a year but that in recent years those visits have decreased to once a year. Their job is to ensure that the kosher products used are registered and that disclosure forms are posted.

Rabbi Weiss said his inspectors found no problems with Zomick’s, but quickly added: “We didn’t look under shelves, go around with flashlights in the basement and put our hands under the counter. Had we found problems with food safety, we would have directed it to Food Safety” for a follow-up.

Zomick’s pointed out that the supermarkets to which it sells its products “do random testing when the products are in inventory. Some have in-house capacity. Others have outside sources. Zomick’s randomly opens every batch to test for quality control. This is an assigned function to an employee dedicated to Quality Control. In addition, they are also tested in our in-house lab.”

Although the company said it “has passed all recent inspections,” it actually failed two of the last three inspections. 

Zomick’s said its “procedures for maintaining high sanitary standards were further reinforced in recent months” when in June, 2012, “we voluntarily brought in inspectors from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a not-for-profit accredited third-party certification agency.” It said the foundation’s review of Zomick’s “procedures to safeguard public health and safety passed with flying colors.”

A spokeswoman for NSF said facility audits are “considered confidential” and that she was unable to provide any information about it.

But just one month later, on July 10, state inspectors seized “insect-infested flour in [the] bakery prep area.”

Inspectors returned Oct. 4 and again seized insect-infested corn flour, but this time it was in the storage area.

The most recent inspection was conducted Feb. 28, and the plant passed, despite the presence of 11 to 20 dead cockroaches and insects.

“The fact that they were dead was an indication of the success of our program to eradicate the infestation,” Zomick’s said. “The bakery is now completely clean.”

Asked what should be done with challahs, cakes and other Zomick’s products consumers have in their freezers that were bought last fall, when the plant in October failed the state inspection, Zomick’s replied:

“Eat them and enjoy them. All products were tested and are completely safe to eat. They are periodically tested by some of the chains that distribute the product.” 

stewart@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

08/04/2014 - 11:16

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Who made you the judge and jury. How cruel of you to be the Five Town Gossiper after a fast. I sure hope you got your facts straight. That is a sure way to put a business out of business. I also heard that your guest found rodent activity in your kitchen when they ate at your home a few weeks Ago. Perhaps we should report that to city inspectors.
Ben Adom Le Chaveiro.

Zomicks challahs are gummy and dreckedich in any case

11 cocoroaches in a 30,000 square foot faciltiy? I wish my house would be that clean, never mind my local bakery.

Im nauseated...plain and simple. Too many excuses - I really like the one about the cockroaches only being in the crevices and not on the worktable.

You're worried about Lashon Hara when people could be potentially eating rat feces, live cockroaches, or even bird droppings. Furthermore, I can not believe that you would chastise somebody for bringing light to a disgusting situation. All of the inspections they have failed, which are a matter of public record, is evidence alone. In my book this person is doing a mitzvah for the community.

Why is this an issue after the fact. Is the genius who discovered this doing this in an effort to start up with Zomicks or with the Vaad? What is the motivation behind this. In most cases there is a nasty motive behind this, because even if the company fails inspection that doesn't mean that the products are unsafe or that they didn't make sure that the ingredients or the products themselves were safe. It is very difficult to keep maintaining insects away from food products and it is an ongoing job. That doesn't mean that had the inspectors come in a week or two earlier, they wouldn't have had passed inspection. It doesn't mean that the sack of flour that was infested would have been delivered on another day. These things do happen and therefore there are procedures and cautions in place.

This looks like a someone with an agenda looking to make problems. I refuse to give this any importance unless consumers themselves found problems with the products or anyone got sick from their products.

You are right. Arent you glad that the cockroaches were only in the crevices and not on the worktable?? Wonder what happens when the lights go out....There could be NO agendas (if such a thing is truth) if Zomicks maintained a clean bill of health. Shame on them for failing 10 of 17 inspections. Everyone loved their baked goods and Im sure they profited nicely. Use a bit of those profits to clean your place up and keep it that way.

if they passed the last inspection, why is everybody so gungho on zomicks. I am sure there are other bakeries that have not passed there last inspection. Please tell us about current issues not past issues that we cant do anything about. I used to think this was a good newspaper, now i have my doubts. It sounds like someone paid the newspaper to put this article out.There is no way for the "jewish week" to get the facts from state dept so quickly, it takes about 2 weeks to obtain. So there findings is based on someone else is knowledge. Which is probarly why this article was paid by another company, to try & steal their business

It appears they cannot maintain cleanliness as they have failed 10 out 17 inspections. They are historically unreliable, but if you feel their products are free of any insect debris and or bird droppings baked in, and safe to eat - then enjoy. If other bakeries fail as miserably as they have, they should be exposed as well. To say that this should have been kept under wraps is insane and it is YOU who sounds like the person with an agenda. If they didnt have such a disgusting situation at their plant, no one would be able to steal their business - Zomicks challah was the best - and I purposely use the past tense.

My mom's house has always had water bug cockroaches. To me the question becomes, when does the acceptable number of "bug pieces" per bagel change once the bug pieces have insecticide in them? What kind of insecticide and how much?

You indicated in the article "Another question might be how state health standards and kosher supervision standards compare."
Please explain the difference in the standards between a roach or a rat that may be in the food products!

Who made you the judge and jury. How cruel of you to be the Five Town Gossiper after a fast. I sure hope you got your facts straight. That is a sure way to put a business out of business. I also heard that your guest found rodent activity in your kitchen when they ate at your home a few weeks Ago. Perhaps we should report that to city inspectors.
Ben Adom Le Chaveiro.

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