Residents of the Auburn Adult Family Shelter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, say the city is feeding them rancid and expired food that has made numerous people sick.
A rally, led by the residents’ attorney Sanford Rubenstein, was held outside the Auburn Place shelter on Monday, where activists announced a $2 million lawsuit against the city and its vendors on behalf of those who were afflicted by “sickening slop” they say was served in homeless shelters across the city.
Rubenstein also panned statements by Dr. Fabienne Laraque of the Department of Homeless Services, who last week testified at a City Council hearing that food was “tested negative for bacteria pathogens,” referring to the incident in which four Fort Greene shelter residents allegedly suffered from food poisoning after eating chicken salad.
Residents claim that the chicken salad had an “expired label” that had been hidden by a new label with a later expiration date to “misled the council and the public.”
Mauricio Caballero, an immigrant of Costa Rica, said through an interpreter that after he ate the alleged bad chicken salad on Oct. 24, he has been to the hospital 11 times for his food poisoning — even as recently as Sunday night.
Caballero, who was still sick and wearing his hospital bracelet with a bandage on his arm from the intravenous, said that the doctors at the hospital told him he had food poisoning from bad food.
Ken Gilmore, a resident of the Auburn Shelter for the past month, said that after eating the chicken salad, “I vomited three times, and then finally someone called an ambulance — and I was still vomiting.”
“They told me this was a result of food poisoning,” Gilmore said. “The food was expired. They treat us like we are on Rikers Island. They say the food is served hot, but it comes frozen. It is also expired and they relabel it. I don’t eat here any more.”
Residents showed a food certification certificate that was posted, showing the license was expired. They say food has been relabeled so that it doesn’t show the true expiration.
Attorney Rubenstein said testimony by the city doctor was “an attempt to cover up the cause of the food poisoning suffered by these victims.”
“For a city employee, Dr. Laraque, the Department of Homeless Services medical director, to infer that there was nothing wrong with rancid chicken salad with an expired label covered over with a label with an expiration date more than 30 days later, is outrageous, particularly when food poisoning could be caused as well by toxins in the food and when there were four victims who were diagnosed by a local hospital after eating the rancid chicken salad,” Rubenstein said.
Rubenstein called the city’s testimony at the city council, “a public relations ploy to cover up that people were diagnosed with food poisoning from rancid chicken.”
Community activists, who joined the rally, called the city feeding program “food injustice.”
Caballero, who says he has knee trouble and can’t walk well, said he and his wife have been harassed by members of the staff in retaliation for his coming forward about the food poisoning. He said staff have been denying them use of the elevator and forcing them to use the stairs. He said they have also been stopping him from bringing in his prescribed medications and inspecting his person upon entry.
Patrick Gallahue, Press Secretary for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a statement tonight saying:
“The Health Department tested the food in question and lab results were negative for pathogenic food-borne bacteria. No evidence has been presented to us to the contrary and if human cultures have been performed for food poisoning, positive results for these reportable pathogenic bacteria would have been submitted to the Health Department.”
Here is a copy of the Health Department report: