Group Hits Food Lion

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON _ A labor-consumer group asked for a federal investigation of the Food Lion supermarket chain Tuesday, alleging the grocer may have had prior knowledge of sanitary inspections of its stores last year. Food Lion denies "categorically" any impropriety in connection with the Food and Drug Administration inspections of 63 stores in six states between August 1993 and March 1994, the company said in a statement.

Robert Harbrant, president of the Food and Allied Service Trades of the AFL-CIO, said Food Lion employees testified in depositions that the grocer knew which stores were going to be inspected and prepared accordingly.

Consumers United With Employees, or CUE, has asked the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, FDA commissioner David Kessler and the attorneys general from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee to investigate, Harbrant said.

Food Lion also has stores in Oklahoma City.

"The inspections were supposed to be random," Harbrant said.

The FDA will "thoroughly evaluate" the allegations to determine if an investigation is warranted, said spokesman Lawrence Bachorik.

"Food Lion did not know ahead of time what stores would be evaluated," spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said. The employees who gave depositions also are suing the Salisbury, N.C.-based chain for age discrimination, she said.

Food Lion's food-handling methods were the subject of a scathing ABC News report in late 1992, and CUE has since issued reports criticizing the supermarket chain's sales practices.

"We believe that the FDA evaluation was carried out properly and that the excellent rating the FDA gave Food Lion speaks for itself," Ahearn said. …