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State official defends food inspections as fair

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A spokeswoman for the state agency that inspects retail food offerings defended its inspectors Friday against a Front Royal businessman's accusations that they aren't knowledgeable enough to justify action taken against him.

Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, refused to comment on the details of Rodney Sparks' case in which he is charged with 10 counts of offering adulterated and misbranded meat for sale. He was selling the meat at his store at 654 W. 11th St. from Aug. 19, 2011 to Jan. 29, according to court documents.

The charges are the product of an investigation conducted by inspectors with the Office of Meat and Poultry Services in Harrisonburg, a division within Lidholm's agency.

Sparks has denounced the inspectors as lacking an understanding of meat and how to judge its fitness for human consumption. He has insisted that he knows of no one who ever fell ill as a result of meat sold from his store, and inspectors were wrong to deem it unfit for human consumption.

"First of all, I would say all of our inspectors are highly trained," Lidholm said. "They do this every day, and many of them have worked many years for us."

The state uses the same standards as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lidholm said, meaning that food inspections in Virginia follow the same benchmarks as those throughout the nation.

The federal government also reviews the state's inspection program every year, she said.

"There's a lot of checks and balances in our program," Lidholm said. "It is a very successful program with one purpose in mind: to protect the public's health and safety."

Inspectors like those who filed a criminal complaint against Sparks inspect all retail outlets that sell food. The list includes grocery stores, big box retailers, convenience stores and warehouses, Lidholm said.

Each retailer can expect a visit from an inspector at least once a year, she said, but no advance notice is given.

"They're always a surprise to the store," Lidholm said, adding, "we also do complaint-based inspections."

She said the complaint-based inspections are especially important deterrents because a store owner cannot assume that passing a routine inspection means there will be no more for another year.

"We can go into a grocery store and inspect one day," Lidholm said. "If a week later we got a complaint on that store, we would be right back in there. Routine inspections provide a level playing field, but complaint-based inspections do even more."

The inspectors who visit grocery stores check the quality of all food products on sale, not just meat and poultry, she said.

She said the agency fielded 800 complaints about grocery stores last year, many of them having nothing to do with meat.

"It could be someone calling to say they found a bag of rice with a rock in it," she said.


Such a stupid defense, I have been a co-chairman of a non-profit food stand for 15 years and have found the food inspectors in come to our stand to be knowledgeable, well trained and professional. I shudder to think of all the illnesses that would happen if they suddenly stopped inspecting establishments that sell and prepare food.

Sounds like Rodney Sparks is saying since no one has called in sick or dead, it is okay to sell bad meat or food. Sounds like Rodney Sparks is smarter than everybody else, according to Rodney Sparks. Isn't this the way most criminals think?

What else would this guy say after being caught selling rotten meat, he is hoping someone will believe him enough to have some doubt, but facts are facts, this is a sick and desperate man, thanks to the meat inspectors for doing their job.


Maybe Rodney should be sentanced to eat his own products in front of the public. That might change his mind about how "good" the quality is....

I honestly believe that if this store was being inspected right now, it would be closed down for many violations. I also believe that if Rodney Sparks can not produce a bill of sale for every bit of food being sold by him, then I would come to the conclusion that this food probably came out of a dumpster. I call this "used food". Take a close look at the packages this food is in. Are they clean? Do they smell? Commonwealth of Virginia - PLEASE CLOSE DOWN THIS STORE.

I agree with you Sassy, the Common Wealth needs to verify that this food is not out of a dumpster somewhere and is safe for human consumption, they need invoices and proof from the stores he claims he purchase this food from or close him down before he sickens or someone dies, which may have already happened, who would really know...

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