Supermarket forced to throw out $35K of fresh food after woman purposefully coughs on it

By christina capatides

/ CBS News

At a time when grocery store workers and truck drivers are putting in long hours and selflessly risking COVID-19 exposure to keep the shelves in our communities stocked, a "very twisted prank" just forced a supermarket in Pennsylvania to throw away practically their entire inventory of fresh produce.

"Today was a very challenging day," Joe Fasula, the co-owner of Gerrity's Supermarkets, posted on the store's Facebook page Wednesday. "At 2:20 PM today, I got a call from our Hanover Township store. The manager informed me that a woman, who the police know to be a chronic problem in the community, came in to the store and proceeded to purposely cough on our fresh produce, and a small section of our bakery, meat case and grocery. While there is little doubt this woman was doing it as a very twisted prank, we will not take any chances with the health and well-being of our customers. We had no choice but to throw out all product she came in contact with."

The supermarket is now working with their local health inspector to ensure that they have identified and properly disinfected each of the areas that the woman potentially contaminated. They say, as a result, they have had to throw out more than $35,000 worth of food — a devastating thought at a time when many Americans are lining up to shop for necessities.

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Empty shelves in Pennsylvania's Gerrity's Supermarket after more than $35,000 of fresh food had to be thrown out as the result of a horribly insensitive prank. Gerrity's Supermarket

"We are checking to see if our insurance company will cover it," Fasula wrote on Facebook. "But even if they do, our rates will surely go up next year. I am also absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food. While it is always a shame when food is wasted, in these times when so many people are worried about the security of our food supply, it is even more disturbing."

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According to the store, the case has now been escalated to the District Attorney's Office, where "numerous charges" are being pursued.

"Our incredible team did the best they could to get the woman out of the store as fast as possible," Fasula wrote. "The police were contacted immediately and the case has been escalated to the District Attorney's Office. They have assured me that they will be aggressively pursuing numerous charges. In addition, while we do not believe the woman is truly infected, they will make every effort to see that she is tested."

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Employees in Gerrity's Supermarket disinfect shelves where a woman purposefully coughed on fresh food during the coronavirus pandemic. Gerrity's Supermarket

In recent weeks, there has been a disturbing uptick in this type of prank as anxieties over the coronavirus pandemic run high. Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania reported men coughing on others in stores, then claiming they had coronavirus. A Missouri man licked several sticks of deodorant in a Walmart as part of a video mocking the pandemic. And on Tuesday, the Justice Department sent a memo to the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys and the heads of federal law enforcement agencies giving them the green light to use anti-terrorism laws to investigate and prosecute those who threaten to intentionally infect others with the coronavirus.

At Gerrity's, many grocery store employees — already stretched thin — had to stay late to contribute to the cleanup. Others came in on their days off to ensure that the safety of the public was preserved. Still more came in earlier than their normal shifts on Thursday morning to see that all of the affected departments were restocked.

"The only silver lining to this travesty is that it gave us the unfortunate opportunity to test our protocols and demonstrate how seriously we take your safety. At one point, we had over 15 employees involved in the disposal and clean up," the Facebook post read. "One thing is for sure, we will have the cleanest display and freshest produce anywhere in northeast PA."

First published on March 26, 2020 / 1:42 PM

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