State shuts down food wholesaler

LAWRENCEVILLE - A food wholesaler that supplies convenience stores was shut down by the state over the weekend because of a rat infestation and other health violations.

Metro Atlanta Wholesale, at 320 Maltbie Industrial Drive, also did not have a food license, said state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

The Lawrenceville company owned by Mamud Dhanani was fined $25,000 and reopened Monday after it addressed the violations.

"It was not a very appealing place to be storing food in my judgment," Irvin said of the warehouse near downtown Lawrenceville.

Except for the food license, Dhanani said all the violations were addressed Friday - the same day an inspector found them.

"We fixed it perfectly," said Dhanani, who got a food license Monday.

Besides rodents, trash had not been disposed of properly and food was incorrectly stored at the building located beside a BFI garbage-handling facility.

Food containers were stored against the walls in violation of state regulations, and trash containers were leaking. Wooden pallets and brush had also accumulated outside, and the structure's walls had small holes that rats could enter through, Irvin said.

The Agriculture Department is working with the warehouse to ensure that all potentially contaminated food is destroyed. The holes in the building also have been plugged and the garbage cleaned up, Irvin said.

The business also agreed to hire an exterminator and keep a contract with one so the rats don't return, Irvin said.

"He was really concerned about his customers," Irvin said of the owner. "He is selling to other places, and he didn't want to lose that clientele I'm sure, but we had to keep it closed until he got it cleaned up and he got the rats under control."

Dhanani also operates a Shell Food Mart at 662 Ga. Highway 20 in Lawrenceville. The gas station has a food license, Irvin said, and the Friday inspection did not include it.

Metro Atlanta Wholesale peddles food to small stores and convenience stores, most of which are probably located in Gwinnett County, Irvin said.

Of the $25,000 fine, $5,000 is owed immediately. The rest is suspended and will not be due unless further violations occur during a two-year probationary period.

Agriculture Department inspectors visit grocery stores, food warehouses and processing plants to check for food safety. Establishments without a license can slip through the cracks because the state is not aware of their existence.

Metro Atlanta Wholesale came to the department's attention after an eagle-eyed inspector spotted it while driving by and realized he had never visited it although it was in his territory, said Agriculture spokesman Yao Seiadu.

Dhanani said he was unaware he had to get a food establishment license from the state and that food had to be stored away from the walls to discourage rodents.

The state does not make warehouses and other food establishments notify their customers of rodent infestations. Only if a pathogen like E. coli bacteria is involved must they pass along word, Seiadu said.