A ten-year long dispute between the world’s largest internet retailer and America’s food safety regulator finally comes to light as Amazon continues to refuse to register their Kentucky food warehouse with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Considering Amazon’s recent $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, the company is now directly in the FDA’s territory for food safety, however, the online retailer continues to believe otherwise.
Amazon was first contacted by the FDA in July 2008 when the organization sent Amazon an “untitled letter” requesting them to register their Kentucky facility. The letter highlighted their fulfillment center located at 1850 Mercer Load in Lexington, KY, to be a direct violation under federal law and it asked Amazon to register this location voluntarily within 30 days of receiving notification. In response, the Seattle-based retail giant told the FDA that such actions were not necessary.
In May 2010, the FDA followed up with an inspection of the facility, which was still not registered at that time. This inspection was the first FDA check at the facility which has been operating since 2000. Another FDA investigator reached out to the facility in 2013 and asked the company to register the location; they even provided a manager with a manual titled “What you should know about Registrations of Food Facilities.” However, the company failed to comply with the requests.
Nevertheless, according to Amazon, the company is not breaking any laws with their refusals because they are not manufacturing foods in their Kentucky facility. Retail shops such as grocery stores or delis do not have to register with the FDA because they are not responsible for the production of their food products, which is a grey area that Amazon claims it falls under.
In contrast, an FDA investigator told an Amazon representative that their Kentucky holding facility does not qualify as a retail facility because they do not directly sell food to customers. The investigator again asked the company to register their facility, a request that continues to be denied by Amazon.
Amazon claims that their own sanitary efforts are enough to ensure the food safety of their products – a claim that seems to withhold its promise as there are not sanitary violations found or reported by the FDA investigators who visited the facility. However, the e-commerce giant was caught selling recalled soy nut butter last year, even after the product caused illness in 32 consumers, including 16 children. The company reportedly sold the nut butter for over five months after the recall notice was posted.
“Food and product safety are top priorities for Amazon and our fulfillment centers are not only permitted as required by state and local health departments, but we have a robust food safety program to ensure our products are safe for our customers,” Amazon said in a statement.
Though Amazon’s Kentucky holding facility has been able to dodge legal implications so far, the company is likely to submit to the FDA in the future as they become more deeply involved in the food industry with their Whole Foods acquisition. Even more recently, Amazon announced that they will be entering the pharmaceutical industry, which is another area that the FDA regulates.