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A grocery store in Pennsylvania says it was forced to trash an estimated $35,000 in produce and other items Wednesday after a customer coughed all over them amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
The woman came into Gerrity's Supermarket in Hanover Township around 2:20 p.m. and "proceeded to purposely cough" on the store's fresh produce as well as a small section of its bakery, meat case, and grocery shelves, according to the store's co-owner, Joe Fasula.
He described it as a "twisted prank."
"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," Fasula said. "We estimate the value to be well over $35,000."
Fasula said the mystery cougher isn't believed to be infected and was labeled "a chronic problem in the community" by police. He added that the woman hadn't been in the store before and police were contacted after employees got her out as fast as possible.
The case has been "escalated" to the District Attorney's Office, which will be pursuing criminal charges, he said.
Hanover police later announced in a news release that the suspect was identified and was undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital. Criminal charges will also be filed, per the department.
Fasula said the store was working closely with Hanover's local health inspector to identify every area the suspect was in. The co-owner added they disposed of the products before "thoroughly" cleaning and disinfecting everything.
"I am also absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food," Fasula said. "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."
"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 the "only silver lining to this travesty" is that the incident allowed the store to test its safety protocols. More than 15 employees were involved in disposal and clean-up efforts, he said.
In the end, he called it "a very challenging day."
The website for Gerrity's Supermarkets says it has nine locations throughout Pennsylvania. As of early Thursday, the state had nearly 1,300 cases of the virus and 15 deaths.