Local grocery that closed because of mouse reopens

Whole Foods Market conducts all-night cleanup

February 02, 2005|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

It started Monday afternoon when a customer saw a mouse scurry down an aisle at the Whole Foods Market in Mount Washington.

The customer called the Baltimore health department, and by 5 p.m. that evening the store was shut down. A sign on the door read: "We apologize that the store is unexpectedly closed. We are hoping to open as soon as possible."

By 10:30 yesterday morning, the store had reopened, but not before the grocer known for its wholesome and natural image had marshaled employees to spend the night on an all-out assault to rid the grocery of a rodent problem and turned away dozens of customers.

"It was very important to us that we take it seriously," said Sarah Kenney, a spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic division of the Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocery chain. "Our response was rather dramatic. We review this as an important thing to deal with."

When health inspectors arrived at Whole Foods Monday evening after the customer's call, they found droppings near where the mouse was spotted, including around bags of bird feed on the floor, and they suspected the mouse might have friends.

About two dozen workers spent the night cleaning leaking food from back rooms, lifting food displays a few inches off the floor and wiping down shelves and floors. An exterminator was called in to put down glue traps.

Early yesterday, the city's health commissioner, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, inspected the store. He wasn't certain how many mice had been caught, but he gave the store a clean bill of health.

"There was no sign of any infestation. The store is very, very clean," Beilenson said yesterday in a phone interview. "Having seen the place personally, and shopping there very often, I have no qualms about eating there or shopping there. It's probably the cleanest grocery store in the city right now."

Monday's closing was the first for the Whole Foods store because of health violations since it opened in 1996, he said.

Mice sightings are not unheard of in grocery stores, in no small part because of the huge quantity of food. Thirty-four grocery stores and supermarkets have been closed for health violations, including evidence of mice, in the past year, according to city statistics.

Cardboard displays at the ends of grocery aisles are occasional hiding places, Beilenson said. Because mice can crawl through holes as small as a dime, older buildings with cracks in the foundation are susceptible, he said.

Whole Foods is also close to a grassy, wooded area along the Jones Falls Expressway, where many mice might live. The North Baltimore market agreed to fill in holes in its building.

Business was back to normal at the store yesterday afternoon. Customers packed the parking lot. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to shop there after hearing of the temporary closing.

"Oh please," said Mary Morton, 63, of Mount Washington when she heard that a mouse sighting had led to the closing. "Can you believe that the Giant doesn't have a mouse, or anywhere else?"

Terri Timmcke, a home educator from Parkton, said she considers Whole Foods one of the cleanest grocery stores she has seen.

"Every grocery store has mice," she said. "It's just unavoidable when you have dry stuff."

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