JACKSON HEIGHTS — The Jackson Heights Food Court, which sells buffet-style food and an array of grocery items, has been shuttered by the Department of Health for operating without a permit and for having mice, roaches and fruit flies, according to the city.
The market sells pre-made food alongside grocery items, and has been inspected by the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets since opening in a former movie theater in 2012, according to Razib Haq, an owner.
But on Oct. 10, the Department of Health came in for an inspection and told the business it would no longer be inspected by the state-run agency because a majority of its products were prepared foods, he said.
"By force they came in and they shut [us] down and said we had to be under Department of Health," Haq said. "Until we apply for Health, we cannot open."
He also blamed the vermin infestation on the adjacent subway station.
The Department of Health said the business was operating without a permit, and there was also an "infestation" of vermin, according to a spokesman.
A spokesman with Agriculture and Markets said the agency visited the facility with the Department of Health on Sept. 15 and determined it would now be under DOH's jurisdiction.
"If 51 percent or more of the annual income is generated by food service operations, that would be under the jurisdiction of DOH," the spokesman said.
Agriculture and Markets has inspectors who "routinely inspect grocery stores throughout the state to check sanitary conditions, food preparation procedures, and storage conditions, as well as compliance with licensing, pricing, labeling, and point-of-purchase advertising regulations," according to its website.
If prepared food is 50 percent of a store's revenue, then it requires a permit from the Department of Health, according to the city. Less than 50 percent requires a permit from the state.
On Oct. 13, Haq and his employees were inside the food court cleaning since they didn't have any other work to do, he said.
"We're cleaning — all these people are sitting down, so they're working. We let them do the work," he said.
When asked about the presence of mice, roaches and fruit flies, Haq said inspectors spotted them from the subway station next door and his shop was fine.
"They found something on the lobby outside to the subway stations," he said.
Haq said the Jackson Heights Food Court was "one-quarter restaurant" and plans to fight the new designation in Albany this week.