The FDA has issued a warning letter to Whole Foods after identifying multiple violations – including Listeria contamination – at one of their multiple food manufacturing facilities. While the FDA sent the letter to the Texas-based grocery chain on June 8, they did not order the company to shut down the facility.
The FDA identified several violations of both Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, during an inspection of the plant in February. According to the FDA, food products manufactured at Whole Foods’ North Atlantic Kitchen were being “prepared, packed or held under insanitary condition whereby they may be have been contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health.”
The types of products made at the facility include pesto pasta, mushroom quesadillas, chives and beets, vegetables and ready-to-eat egg salad. The regulatory agency claims that Whole Foods was failing to prevent food contamination and properly maintain equipment.
After collecting 100 environmental samples from both food contact services and non-food contact surfaces, the FDA inspectors found traces of Listeria where food was being prepared. While only non-pathogenic stains of Listeria were identified, the presence of any microbial species is a warning sign.
“The presence of Listeria spp., such as the non-pathogenic Listeria welshimeri, detected on a food contact surface in your manufacturing facility is specifically used as an indicator for the probable presence of Listeria monocytogenes in your processing environment,” said the FDA warning letter. “This finding demonstrates that conditions exist in and on your equipment that would support the presence and growth of Listeria monocytogenes and indicates that your cleaning and sanitation practices may not be adequate.”
The FDA inspectors noted a number of specific violations, including employees washing their hands using sinks close to ready-to-eat vegetables. Condensation was found to be dripping into barrels of egg salad, and an ammonium-based cleaner was oversprayed onto salad greens.
The warning letter notes a lack of adequate hand washing stations for employees, as well as the inappropriate storage of an unmarked barrel of chemicals in the same area used to prepare vegetables. While senior leadership responded to the FDA warning letter by promising that the observations would be taken seriously, the agency has so far been unimpressed with Whole Foods’ response.
“We do not consider your response acceptable because you failed to provide documentation for our review, which demonstrates that all your noted correction actions have been effectively implemented, said the warning letter,” said the warning letter. Whole Foods has 15 days to respond to the letter by providing documentation – including photos, invoices and work orders – to the FDA.