Of the those complaints, there have been 15 citations issued, but some of those citations were the result of investigations not initiated by a complaint.
Nine of the citations involve grocery stores selling wine at less than the state required 20 percent mark up from the wholesale price.
An undercover agent with the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission said for the most part grocery stores are compliant and proactive with their methods to prevent underage alcohol sales and to make sure they abide by all the laws governing wine in grocery stores.
Retail food locations can be fined by the TABC and risk losing their license to sell wine if they are not following all the rules.
Each retail food location is inspected before they can get a license to sell wine. They will then be inspected annually.
“The first thing they look for are some simple things like is all the correct paperwork posted, including the permit to sell alcohol,” the special agent said. “They also look to see if there are any irregularities in the operation of the business, like visibly intoxicated people being served or people who appear to be under 21 years of age in possession of alcohol.”
Inspectors also inspect locations when there is a change in ownership, when there is a substantial remodel of the space, or if there’s a complaint against the business.
In order to keep up with the increased number of places licensed to sell wine, the TABC created a new position.
Regulatory officers do inspections of the licensed businesses but cannot do criminal investigations.
The state started out with 10 regulatory officers, but more will be hired based on how many new wine in grocery store permit holders are added over the next fiscal year.
“It looks like starting out the grocery stores are not being complacent,” the special agent said. “The grocery store owners and their employees are being very alert.”
He continued, “Some of them, especially large chains, have implemented best practices. Some of them use scanners and some of them manually enter the date of birth into the computer.”
Special agents operate criminal investigations which can include sending undercover minors into a location to attempt to buy alcohol. If a business is caught selling to minors they face criminal charges both from the TABC and from their local beer permit board.
MADD of Tennessee said stopping underage drinking is a matter of life and death for teens, because thousands of teens are killed as a result of underage drinking every year in America.
“Underage alcohol consumption kills more than 4,700 youth across the country each year,” MADD State Program Director Kate Ritchie said. “The earlier you start drinking, the more likely you are to become an alcoholic.”
According to MADD, kids who drink are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol related crash. High school students are five times more likely to drop out, and 25 percent of deadly teen crashes involve an underage drinking driver.
“We are grateful grocery stores are taking part in being responsible venders of alcohol and being successful at not selling to minors,” Ritchie said.
MADD has a number of resources available to parents and teens that deal with avoiding underage drinking and being involved in an alcohol related crash