- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The owner of a St. Paul grocery store faces criminal charges after authorities said they found ‘egregious’ unsanitary conditions at his store.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (http://bit.ly/1qRcGFa ) that inspectors found rodent droppings throughout West Side Groceries, as well as food stored on the floor in standing water.

Hamza Ahmad Abualzain, 34, of Columbia Heights, was charged Friday with food handler/safety charges. Three counts are gross misdemeanors and one is a misdemeanor. His attorney, Kevin Sandstrom, said Friday that he and his client declined to comment.

The store is more commonly known by its former name, Stryker Market.

St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing said it’s rare for her office to take this kind of case. But, she said, the state Department of Agriculture, the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections and St. Paul police “put together a set of facts that were so egregious we felt we had no choice but to seek criminal penalties.”

Abualzain is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 20.

Police raided the market in June and arrested an employee after they said they found marijuana and a digital scale. They went back earlier this month with Agriculture Department inspectors, shutting the store and arresting Abualzain.

The criminal charges say he doesn’t have a food handler license for the business. Agriculture Department spokeswoman Margaret Hart said the store can’t reopen without a license.

State agriculture inspectors had gone to the store for a routine inspection Dec. 3 and found numerous violations including “no nail brush at the hand sink, no sanitizer for cleaning food-contact surfaces and utensils on site, wet and dirty floors both inside and outside of the cooler … raw food not stored separately from ready-to-eat food,” and more, the complaint said.

The store was in compliance by Dec. 31. But on July 10, state inspectors conducted a routine inspection and found Abualzain had no license to operate his business, the complaint said.

They “found evidence of food adulteration … due to insanitary conditions … in that there were rodent droppings found throughout the establishment, open areas where vermin could gain entry, dirty and broken ceiling tiles, inaccessible and dirty sinks,” and more, the complaint said.

In addition, the complaint said, the cooler held “multiple packages of misbranded meat.”

Meanwhile, the city of St. Paul is seeking to take away the store’s tobacco license. Abualzain’s attorney wrote in a letter that his client “disputes the facts” described in a notice of intent to revoke the license. It’s scheduled for an administrative hearing in September.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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