FDA Issues Warning to Whole Foods Over Massachusetts Plant

Whole Food MarketIt has not been a good year for Whole Foods. The grocery chain has been experiencing slowing sales and accusations of overpricing for over a year now, and the company recently received a letter from the FDA regarding the conditions at one of the company’s food preparation facilities.

The violations noted by inspectors included the following:

  • Numerous instances where food was being mixed, stored, or transported beneath areas of the ceiling where condensate was dripping from the structure, which is deemed a contamination hazard
  • In one instance, an employee was seen cutting chives and beets beneath a leaking drainage pipe
  • Employees were observed to not be washing hands or changing gloves between tasks, some of which involved handling ready-to-eat egg salad and quinoa cakes
  • Exposed mesculin salad was packaged in close proximity to work surfaces that were being sprayed with ammonium sanitizer, resulting in an open colander of salad getting sprayed
  • Findings of (non-pathogenic) Listeria bacteria on various pieces of equipment, suggesting sanitation practices may not be adequate
  • Failure to keep soiled dishes separate from ready-to-eat products
  • Some of the hand washing facilities did not have adequate hot water

The inspections were conducted back in February and the inspectors’ findings were issued to Whole Foods on February 26. The company did deliver a written response to the FDA on March 17 that was meant to address these concerns. However, the FDA notes in its June letter that it does not find the response acceptable and maintains “serious concerns” about the conditions of the plant. Although Whole Foods indicated that it would be retraining employees, it did not mention how supervision would improve or how retraining could ensure compliance. Additionally, Whole Foods did not provide documentation demonstrating that any corrective actions had been implemented effectively.

Whole Foods has 15 days to respond to the FDA’s new letter with the proper evidence and documentation of corrective action. For the record, there is no evidence at this time that the conditions in the Massachusetts plant were egregious or otherwise linked to any incidents of contamination, only that there were violations of FDA standards and guidelines.

Sources for Today’s Article:

“Whole Foods Market North Atlantic Kitchen 6/8/16,” FDA web site, June 8, 2016; http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2016/ucm506089.htm, last accessed June 15, 2016.