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Pa. grocery store throws out more than $35,000 in food after woman purposely coughed on it


A small grocery store chain in the Scranton area threw out “well over $35,000” in groceries this week when a woman “purposely cough on our fresh produce, and a small section of our bakery, meat case and grocery,” according to the chain’s co-owner.

Gerrity’s Supermarkets has nine locations. According to a Facebook post by co-owner Joe Fasula, the incident occurred at the store at Hanover Township in Luzerne County, 2280 Sans Souci Way.

“Today was a very challenging day,” the post from Wednesday begins.

He said at 2:20 p.m., the store manager informed him that a woman, “who the police know to be a chronic problem in the community,” according to his post, 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.”

The post continued: “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. Working closely with the Hanover Township health inspector, we identified every area that she was in, we disposed of the product and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected everything.”

The total loss had not been calculated, but is well over $35,000, he said.

“We are checking to see if our insurance company will cover it, 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,” he said in the post.

“Our incredible team did the best they could to get the woman out of the store as fast as possible. 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,” he said.

“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.”

He concluded: “One thing is for sure, we will have the cleanest display and freshest produce anywhere in northeast PA.”

Hanover Township police posted on Facebook that "the suspect has been identified and is being evaluated at a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. Criminal charges will be filed."

The Associated Press reported cases of coughing on people in stores, in New Jersey and in Cumberland County — both at Wegmans locations.

The New Jersey attorney general's office said Tuesday that 50-year-old George Falcone of Freehold is accused of having coughed on a Wegmans food store employee at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Manalapan and telling the woman he has the coronavirus, the AP reported.

At the Wegmans on the Carlisle Pike, North Middletown Township police allege that a man deliberately coughed in the face of a recovering pneumonia patient last week and repeatedly claimed he was infected with the coronavirus, according to the AP.

Charges were filed against both.