Distributor Found Selling Chicken Wings In Dangerous Way

NBC 10 Investigators Track Down, Confront Distributor

PHILADELPHIA -- At first glance, what the NBC 10 Investigators' hidden camera saw didn't come close to what the crew smelled.

"It hits you," said a poultry deliveryman who helped blow the whistle on the chicken wing operation. "Something's bad."

It wasn't a chicken processing plant. It was a garage behind a Philadelphia row home.

Inside, a barefoot worker could be seen cutting wings that might have been served up at your favorite restaurant.

It was hot. Flies were everywhere. NBC 10's cameras spotted chicken dropped in the water on a sloppy floor. At one point, the wing was picked up and tossed back in the pile.

"He's got blood in that water, plus the ice, and it's just bacteria," the deliveryman said.

They were chopped down into Buffalo wings, party wings, wingettes and the distributor resold them for a profit. Where? Maybe your neighborhood pizzeria, NBC 10's Lu Ann Cahn reported.

And there's more.

"He's endangering people lives," said the deliveryman, explaining why he came forward.

"It's horrible," said Drexel University food preparation expert Philip Handel, who said camera crews were looking at the perfect recipe for salmonella -- enough to make plenty of people sick to their stomach.

"There's lack of sanitation. There's no temperature control in there. Insect and pest control is absolutely lacking," Handel said.

Not completely lacking, Cahn reported. Cameras found fly bait on a rotting piece of chicken. And there was also a fly strip.

"The potential for contamination for that product is just huge -- absolutely incredible," Handel said.

"I had the runs for three days, couldn't keep nothing in my stomach," said Tammy Scurry, who said she got sick after eating a six-piece "wing-ding platter" from Quaulity Pizza on Torresdale Avenue.

There is no way to prove that the wings made her sick. But on Aug. 30, the NBC 10 Investigators went undercover and saw boxes and boxes of chicken being loaded from the garage on Tabor Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia into the back of this un-refrigerated van.

So, cameras followed, and the truck led to Quality Pizza, where a delivery was filmed.

The owner denied it.

"I buy it from Cedar Farms my chicken," the man said.

"You do? Well, I have video of him delivering here," Cahn said.

"I can't talk to you right now," the man said.

"You didn't take a delivery on Thursday? " Cahn asked.

"I can't talk," the man answered.

The same chicken van was followed to Philly Wings in the Mayfair Shopping Center.

"No, I've never seen this guy before," said a man behind the counter.

Cahn showed the delivery to his store and asked, "Why buy from someone you don't know where they come from?"

"Because it's cheaper. That's what it is," the man said.

Here was the reaction at New England Pizza on Bustleton Avenue.

"This is New England Foods, chicken wings," said a man behind the counter showing a document. "We don't take from this guy."

"I have video here of a delivery made last Thursday," Cahn said.

"We don't take from anyone," the man retorted.

At Valentino's Pizza on Torresdale, cameras caught four boxes come out of the chicken van.

But when the manager was shown the video, he said, "I never did business with this guy, ever."

"Well, what's he doing delivering to your place? He walked right in this door with chicken wings," Cahn said. "Yeah, this door."

"Well, I don't know," was the reply.

So, how does someone blatantly run an illegal chicken wing operation out of his garage? It's a good question considering lots of restaurants did business with this guy, Cahn said.

"I'm Lu Ann Cahn with the NBC 10 Investigators," the reporter said as she approached.

Once inside, Cahn said, "There's a lot of flies. The smell…"

"This is medicine for the flies," said Fursan Alhasasna, who didn't seem worried when a camera crew went to the row home to expose his business.

"… We clean everything, wash everything. I be careful more than anybody," he added.

In the heat of the un-refrigerated Tabor Avenue row home garage, a box of chicken sat in water on the floor.

"This operation, you know, is illegal?" Cahn said.

"I understand 100 percent this is not legal. When I say it's not legal, it's not legal, because this is a garage," Alhasasna said.

Still, after admitting this, he just kept on delivering chicken wings to places like Wonder Pizza.

"I can't believe he would do something like that," said a man behind the counter there.

Cahn asked at Premium Pizza, "Why did you buy from him?"

"'Cause he's a nice guy," a man answered.

At New Plaza Pizza, the answer was, "I had no idea it was like this."

And at Bella Italy, the reaction was "Oh, my God."

That's when the NBC 10 Investigators called the Philadelphia Health Department.

Cahn asked one of the inspectors, "Are you closing them down?"

"Thank you," the man said, walking away.

Cahn told one of the neighbors, "The man who owns the business says it has only been going on two months."

"No, it's been a good year," said a woman.

Neighbors said they are relieved and angry.

"I tried for a long time to get through to Licenses & Inspections, but they weren't interested," said another neighbor.

"There are no complaints in reference to this particular address," said Dominic Verdi, of the Department of Licenses.

L&I said it knew nothing about this chicken operation until NBC 10 called the health department.

The city confiscated all of Alhasasna's chicken.

"We found active roach infestation. We found an active fly infestation. This is a situation of gross, unsanitary conditions," said John Rafes of the Philadelphia Health Department.

"He's been coming in over a year," said a man at Wilson's Food Market, who said Alhasasna was buying 30 cases of chicken each week.

Other companies delivered to him, which means it was a pretty big business in the little garage, Cahn reported.

"If I knew this was going on, I certainly would not sell to him," said the man at Wilson's Food Market.

"This is going out to hundreds of customers across the city and spreading this contamination," said Drexel's Handel.

Which is why the health department inspected every restaurant suspected of buying Alhasasna's wings.

Bella Italy, Quality Pizza, Philly Wings and Valentino's all had critical violations.

Violations were so bad at New Plaza Pizzeria that the city forced it to shut down for a day.

Pizza Haven on Kensington Avenue was shut down permanently.

"You understand the concern, the health concern, the safety concern?" Cahn asked Alhasasna.

"I understand everything. I spelled it to him, everything," Alhasasna said.

But city officials said they don't know how many restaurants were involved or if people got sick.

"And what's to prevent him from doing this again?" Cahn asked.

"Us," answered Rafes.

"Do you understand the danger in this?" Cahn asked Alhasasna as he closed the door to his garage.

"I understand," he replied.

The city is still investigating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also investigating, Cahn reported.

How do you know if your chicken wings are safe? Experts said to look at the inspection reports. A dirty restaurant is more likely to take risks with your food.

Here's a link to see the locations and health reports of some of the Philadelphia restaurants referenced in this story.

Note: One of NBC 10's promotional ads for this story included part of a Wings To Go bucket. There is no connection between the Wings To Go company and this investigation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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