When a food safety inspector walked into a market in the borough of Queens, he noticed the store had an interesting special posted on its front window: 12 beefy armadillos.
In Brooklyn, inspectors found 6.7kg of iguana meat at a West Indian market and 90kg of cow lungs for sale at another market.
At a West African grocery in Manhattan, the store was selling smoked rodent meat from a refrigerated display case.
All was headed for the dinner table. All was illegal. Such food can spread nasty bacteria like salmonella or botulism.
Authorities say the discoveries are part of a larger trend in which markets across New York are buying meat and other foods from unregulated sources and selling them to an immigrant population accustomed to more exotic fare.
State regulators have increased enforcement measures, confiscating 65 percent more food through September than they did in all of last year.
The seizures also focus on the eating habits of this ethnically diverse city, where everything from turtles and fish paste to frogs and duck feet make their way onto people's plates.
"At one time or another, we've probably seen about everything," said Joseph Corby, director of the state's Division of Food Safety and Inspection.
In an attempt to stop the activity, Corby's agency has increased efforts, working with the Food and Drug Administration, to prevent the illicit food from reaching store shelves.
Corby said his inspectors are also targeting warehouses that receive imported products -- Russian, Asian and African -- from where the food is distributed.
So far, it appears the campaign has been effective. In the first nine months of the year, inspectors across the state seized 720,000kg of food, destroying about 81 percent. Last year, the state seized 439,234kg.
Food taken by Corby's inspectors lacked proper labeling or did not come from a government licensed or inspected source.
Other food was destroyed because of the way it was processed or prepared, like chicken smoked in the home and placed on sale.
"Immigrants coming from the Third World would not be schooled in the issues of cross contamination and would not intuitively know hygiene standards," said Dr. Pascal James Imperato, a former city health commissioner who spent six years in Africa with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"They don't know how simple contamination can result in a widespread epidemic," he added.
The law varies from animal to animal.
Bush meat, or anything killed in the wild, is typically illegal, Corby said. Eating endangered or threatened species like as gorilla and chimpanzee -- whose meat is occasionally found in New York -- is against the law.
But turtles, frogs, iguana and armadillos can be eaten under one condition: The meat must come from a licensed and inspected facility.
"We have yet to find too many of these places," Corby said.
State sanitary inspection reports dating back to 2001 reveal a widespread appetite for potentially dangerous food.
In Manhattan's Chinatown, Bor Kee Food Market has been caught selling unidentified red meat. Down the street at Dahing Seafood Market, inspectors have found frogs being sold from an unapproved source.
"That's a no-no because there is absolutely no monitoring of the standards in these places," said Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter, and director of clinical microbiology at New York University Medical Center.
"It's subject to the vagaries of whoever is processing the food. Who's watching?" he said.
In a city filled with people from all over the world, the law can get lost in translation.
At the West African Grocery -- where "smoked rodent" was found -- the owner failed to explain why he was selling the mysterious meat, saying he could not speak English.
At another market in Brooklyn called Chang Xiang Trading, the manager shrugged her shoulders when confronted with reports showing the store has sold illegal pork, chicken and ducks. Her English was not good, she said.
Sung Soo-kim, president of Korean American Small Business Service Center of New York, says it is hard to change centuries-old eating habits.
Kim runs a state-approved food safety education program and has delivered seminars to the Korean community about food laws.
Corby says that one way to get businesses to comply with the program is ordering them to take a state-approved food inspection course.
If all else fails, Corby will get a court injunction and close stores, something the state did 66 times last year and 72 times through September this year.
"We either clean them up or close them down," he said. "There is a high standard that is applied. We'd rather have it too high than too low."
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did