By Geoffrey Ingersoll
Whole Foods may have sparked the organic food revolution, but it is no beacon of cleanliness.
The Food and Drug Administration found evidence of the deadly bacteria Listeria on its visit to a Whole Foods preparation facility in Everett, as well as condensation from ceiling pipes dripping on food.
The agency recently issued a lengthy warning letter to Whole Foods, alerting the company of its “serious concerns.” The inspectors wrote that they found a type of bacteria in the facility called Listeria Welshimeri after testing swabs of more than 100 surfaces throughout the kitchen. The FDA said the microbe is a possible indicator of the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a different form of the bacteria that causes severe food-borne illness, according to Food Safety Watch. The mortality rate associated with the disease is 30%.
“FDA has serious concerns that our investigators found your firm operating under these conditions,” read the June 8 warning letter to Whole Foods.
Inspectors also observed condensation dripping onto various dishes, including pesto pasta, mushroom quesadillas, and uncovered barrels of egg salad. “Condensate was observed to be dripping at a rate of approximately once per second,” inspectors wrote.
In other instances, inspectors found inadequate sanitation of food prep surfaces, sinks without hot water for hand washing, and improperly diluted disinfectant.
Known as the Whole Foods Market North Atlantic Kitchen, the facility makes ready-to-eat foods for 74 stores in Northeastern states. Investigators sent their observations of the facility to Whole Foods on February 26 and received a response from the American supermarket chain several weeks later, in which Whole Foods said it would take the necessary actions to correct the violations. Yet the FDA does not seem convinced, writing in its June 8 letter, “We do not consider your response acceptable because you failed to provide documentation for our review.”
Ken Meyer, Whole Foods’ global vice president of operations, said in a statement on Tuesday that the chain has taken “thorough and tangible steps,” to address the violations. “We’ve been in close contact with the FDA, opened our doors to inspectors regularly since February, and worked with them to address every issue brought to our attention,” he said.
This may be a reoccurring problem for the Austin, Texas-based chain. In October, 2015, Whole Foods Market recalled its curry chicken salad and classic deli pasta salad in seven states due to possible Listeria contamination. The products were packaged and prepared in the same Everett kitchen facility.
The June 8 warning letter has caused considerable alarm, with shares of Whole Foods falling more than 2.5% Tuesday. This follows a drop of nearly 35% last year following accusations that the chain overcharged customers and other health scares.
Whole Foods has 15 business days to respond to the FDA’s concerns.
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