The Department of State Health Services determined that conditions at Pantry South and Mr. Q’s BBQ posed “an immediate threat to human life or health,” and ordered both businesses closed down on Sept. 24. The store has responded and since been cleared.
Regarding Mr. Q’s BBQ, a wholesale food manufacturing business that adjoins the Pantry South convenience store, “The facility is infested with live and dead rodents as well as hundreds of rodent excreta pellets throughout its tortilla manufacturing room, including on its tortilla manufacturing equipment,” the health department reported. “Specifically, five live mice were observed on the tortilla manufacturing equipment itself: one was in the tortilla cooling conveyor; one was seen running from beneath the conveyor to the south wall; and three were below the tortilla press and appeared to be eating tortillas.”
Six dead mice were found on the floor of the east wall and two more were found inside of a cabinet below a food preparation table, the health department reported.
“Multiple rodent excreta pellets were found on the oven glades used to cook the tortillas; 34 rodent excreta pellets were found on the tortilla cooling conveyor and near the conveyor motor. Numerous rodent tracks and rodent excreta pellets were found in the flour on the tortilla equipment,” the health department announced.
About 700 rodent excreta pellets were found throughout the tortilla manufacturing area, including on or near the tortilla press, on the mixer, on the shelving portion of the machine, on the metal racks where the bags of flour are stored and on the floor behind this rack, on and below the metal shelf where spices are stored, (on) top of the stove, on metal shelving next to the tortilla cooling conveyor and mixer and on the floor next to the dough proofer, according to a report issued by the health department.
“Additional rodent excreta pellets too numerous to count were observed on the floor along the inside perimeter of the tortilla manufacturing area where the facility stores old equipment, furniture, bicycles, clothes and other junk,” the health department reported. “In addition, 10 dead cockroaches and four rodent excreta pellets, as well as 10 flies were observed in the tortilla manufacturing area.”
Additionally, the health department reported, the tortilla manufacturing equipment is not cleaned on a regular basis; no sanitizer is used, and “nonfood-grade silicon spray, a lubricant, is used on the tortilla manufacturing machine.”
Health department officials also reported that they observed signs of “extensive pest activity” within the Pantry South convenience store, which shares a common wall and continuous attic space with Mr. Q’s BBQ.
State health officials said the conditions at both sites “posed an imminent threat to public health or safety” and issued an emergency order of closure on Sept. 25 “until such time as the department determines that such conduct no longer presents an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.”
The health department allowed the Pantry South convenience store to reopen on Friday, Oct. 2. However, the wholesale food distributor, Mr. Q’s BBQ, is undergoing renovations and remains closed to the public.
Leticia Muñoz, who oversees the Pantry Convenience stores and its wholesale food preparation firm, Mr.Q’s BBQ, said conditions have been improved and the store has since reopened. “We were notified that we could not store the food in the manner we were storing it. The problem has been rectified. If you call the health department, it will give us a 110 percent passing grade.”
The Bee County Health Department confirmed Muñoz’s claims. “They have complied with everything we have asked of them, and more,” said Bee County Health Inspector Dennis Dewitt. “We are impressed with their commitment to rectifying the health conditions as required under the emergency order, and taking additional steps and enhancements.”