Burst Bakery Pipe Covers Home In Flour; Bun-Bakers Won’t Fork Over Dough To Clean Mess Up

The homeowner, looking through her flour and cornmeal-crusted front door.  See more photos at NJ.com. (photo: William Perlman/Newark Star-Ledger)

The homeowner, looking through her flour and cornmeal-crusted front door. See more photos at NJ.com. (photo: William Perlman/Newark Star-Ledger)

For years, an elderly New Jersey woman lived in peace next door to a bun-baking factory. But that’s all changed in the past year, following two incidents that have left her property covered in flour and cornmeal and stuck her with the cleanup bill.

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column — penned by our own Karin Price Mueller — has the woman’s story, along with saga of multiple, unsuccessful attempts to get anyone at the baking company to give a hoot about her problem.

The first incident occurred last August, when the octogenarian homeowner noticed that her property had become covered in a white powdery substance.

“It was flour and looked like an early snowfall,” she tells Bamboozled. “It was covering the yard, the garage roof, the garden and the entire yard next store. My windows and screens were covered.”

The bakery did send over some employees to hose down the house and yard, though the homeowner says some floury patches remained.

The workers never cleaned her windows, which were still coated in flour. After weeks of trying to get the bakery to remedy the problem, the homeowner went out-of-pocket to the tune of $300 to have her windows and screens cleaned.

She asked the bakery to reimburse her for the cost. It countered with an offer of $150 because she was unable to provide a receipt.

“So I suggested receiving baking products in replacement of the $150,” says the homeowner. “(The employee) thought that was a good idea, however I only got a cheese babka and a pie that was not equal to $150.”

Then came January 6, when the she says she was woken up by the sound of a blast from the neighboring bakery. A pipe had apparently burst during the delivery of materials to the bakery, resulting in her property once again being coated and ready to be deep-fried.

“I went to the back porch windows and saw that my windows were covered with a substance — a mixture of flour and corn meal,” she recalls. “I went down and found my back door, the garage, the roof, the entire property was covered with this flour/corn meal. It was a heavier coating than the first incident.”

The police were unable to raise anyone at the bakery. The local health department finally reached an HR staffer at the company, who first said the homeowner should get her home cleaned and then the bakery would reimburse her for cleanup expenses. However, the employee then agreed that it was really the bakery’s responsibility and it should be the one hiring a cleaner rather than requiring the homeowner to once again pay for its mess.

The HR rep told the health dept. that she would contact the homeowner, but never did. Her attempts to get anyone at the company to respond came to no avail.

She contacted her insurance company but didn’t file a claim because the baker had told the health dept. it would take care of the cleanup. However, she did have the insurer recommend a cleanup service, which she then contacted for an estimate.

That service estimated the exterior cleanup of the home at $5,500, with another $725 estimate for cleaning affected interior portions of her home and two air-conditioning units.

To remove and replace the landscaping that was contaminated by the explosion would take another $3,800, pushing the total over $10,000 for the full cleanup.

With estimates in hand, she contacted the HR person who had never reached out to her as originally promised. The HR person passed her on to the plant manager, who never responded to her multiple voicemails and was not available when she tried to find him at the bakery.

She called the health dept. again and they went over to the plant together, where the manager was once again unavailable.

The health dept. looked into issuing a summons to force someone at the bakery to appear, but later determined that it didn’t have the authority because the flour/cornmeal mix might be a pain in the butt, but it’s not a health or safety hazard.

“I still track corn meal/flour into my home. My windows are still coated with the mixture all these months later,” said the homeowner to Bamboozled, pointing out that the bakery has repaired the damaged pipe that spewed the crud all over her house, but won’t return her calls about cleaning up their mess.

Bamboozled then tried to get involved in the hope that negative media attention would spur the company to action. Alas…

After following the money trail to the bakery’s owners, Bamboozled made several attempts to get some answers.

Voicemails went unresponded to, messages left with receptionists vanished into the void. Even e-mails on LinkedIn failed to get anyone’s attention.

The HR manager who’d given the homeowner the runaround did the same to Bamboozled, directing them to the never-available plant manager. The manager then passed them off to a different HR person, who suggested they talk to the plant manager. When Bamboozled explained they really just wanted to talk to the company’s owner, this HR person promised to pass on the message. You’ve probably already guessed which circular file that went into.

Meanwhile, the homeowner’s property is still covered in a floury, corny mess that she will probably have to sue to get cleaned up.

Bamboozled: Bakery pipe explosion covers NJ home in flour, company won’t pay for cleanup [NJ.com]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.