The Food and Drug Administration sent Whole Foods a stern letter last week warning that the grocery giant could face severe consequences in connection with a number of food safety issues. The warning comes after Whole Foods responded to an initial FDA notice but failed to provide any documentation related to fixing the food safety issues.
According to a warning letter issued by the FDA, ready-to-eat items prepared, packaged, or stored at a Whole Foods facility in Massachusetts “may have been contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health.” The letter refers to an inspection that was carried out in February 2016 and cites six specific deficiencies that account for dozens of violations of the FDA’s food packaging, manufacturing, and storage regulations.
The longest list of violations relates to conditions where ready-to-eat items prepared at the Whole Foods facility were likely to become contaminated by microorganisms.
At the time of the February inspection, the FDA noted that ready-to-eat items like mushroom quesadillas and pesto sauce were prepared in a room where some manner of liquid was dripping from the ceiling, and uncovered ready-to-eat couscous was transported through another area with dripping ceilings. The inspector also saw workers move between food preparation and other tasks without changing gloves, and other workers allowed portions of their clothing to touch ready-to-eat green salads during preparation.
The FDA also noted several issues with sanitation, including a fresh vegetable prep station located next to a hand washing station with no splash guard between them. One Whole Foods employee also accidentally sprayed quaternary ammonium-based sanitizer on ready-to-eat mesculin salad while the FDA was present.
In addition to these food safety issues, the FDA also warned Whole Foods that their food processing equipment was not maintained in acceptable condition. One swab obtained from a “food contact surface” of a vegetable chopping machine revealed the presence of Listeria welshimeri bacteria.
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. 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 also warned that Whole Foods “failed to take proper precautions to protect food and food-contact surfaces from contamination with chemicals, filth and extraneous materials due to deficiencies in plant design” at their Massachusetts facility. Specific examples included soiled dishes that were kept in proximity to ready-to-eat products, procedures that allowed “aerosolized spray from the cleaning activity” to settle on food, and an assortment of soiled and unclean equipment.
Although the Whole Foods facility did appropriately tag a broken washing station with an “out of service, no hot water” sign, the FDA noted that employees continued to wash their hands at the station when returning from breaks and tasks unrelated to food preparation.
CBS News reports that Whole Foods claims that the issues have already been addressed and that the additional warning is not necessary.
“The thorough and tangible steps that were taken in the North Atlantic Kitchen to address each of these points were not reflected in the FDA’s follow-up letter, and we have contacted them to discuss the matter,” a Whole Foods representative said on Tuesday.
According to the FDA, Whole Foods did respond to the initial notice in March, but the response was not adequate. Although Whole Foods claims to have taken “thorough and tangible steps” to correct the violations noted in the FDA warning, the FDA insists that no documentation was provided. Whole Foods also failed to include any additional supervisory measures, according to the FDA.
This documentation may include photographs, invoices, work orders, voluntary destruction records of any affected products, certification of actions performed by contractors, and/or any other useful information that would assist us in evaluating your corrections.
The FDA warning provides Whole Foods with 15 working days to respond, after which the upscale grocer could face “further actions, such as injunction or seizure.”
[Photo by AP Photo/Tony Dejak]