Whole Foods decided in January 2017 to shut down three East Coast ready to eat food manufacturing plants in the wake of Food and Drug Administration warnings about unsanitary kitchens and the finding of listeria bacteria inside one of the plants in February 2016. The shutdown results from one more event in an increasingly long line of recent agency actions that respond aggressively to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The Food and Drug Administration has shown itself willing to issue large fines, shut down unsanitary facilities, and even bring criminal charges against food producers who fail to take food safety seriously.
Food Production And Listeria Risks
Listeriosis particularly has exploded onto the radars of food safety experts in recent years. The disease, caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, causes sepsis and meningitis in patients. It has a fatality rate of approximately 25% in severe cases. While rare, the high potential for fatalities have caused regulators and safety-conscious food companies to take aggressive action against listeria contamination.
Danger To Public Health
Listeriosis poses particular concerns for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and adults over sixty five years old. Listeria can pose a particular problem for food producers and transporters because it can survive proper refrigeration. That means prevention of listeriosis requires more than just refrigerating foods during transportation; it means treating foods properly at all stages of development and ensuring they are cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Listeria Found At Whole Foods Food Preparation Kitchen
Whole Foods had tried to produce most of its ready to eat food for the Atlantic region at a few different geographically diverse plants owned by the company. The citations focused on a ready-to-eat food preparation plant in Everett, Massachusetts.
The discovery of Listeria monocytogenes at a Whole Foods food preparation plant prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning to the company in June 2016. The Food and Drug Administration also cited the plant for a number of other food and safety violations, including employee sanitation failures and the presence of a giant vat of unmarked chemicals in a food preparation area.
The Everett, MA plant opened in 2012. It was supposed to be a state of the art facility focused on sustainable waste and energy practices.
FDA Warnings Causing Plant Closures?
Now, less than five years later, the company has made the decision to shut down the Everett plant, as well as one in Landover, Maryland and another in Atlanta, Georgia. For its part, Whole Foods has tried to paint the closures as part of an effort to streamline its ready to eat food producing processes.
Still, the timing between the Food and Drug Administration warning and the announcement of the closing serves as a warning to producers, shippers, carriers, and receivers of the FDA’s aggressive preventative approach to food safety in the current era.
So How Can Your Business Steer Clear Of Trouble?
"Companies need to implement appropriate safety and sanitation measures to avoid running afoul of FDA regulations and facing warnings, costly enforcement proceedings, and maybe even criminal charges for their food safety practices,'' advises Gloria Fobes, Executive Vice President of ECBM.