December 14, 2019

Illinois Sprouts Listeria Accountability Addressed in FDA Report

Bean Sprouts CloseupFood safety shortcomings at Wholesome Soy Products Inc. included employee practices that allowed for potential contamination in various ways, according to an FDA inspection report completed one month ago. The report, obtained by Food Poisoning Bulletin, was made in the wake of an Illinois outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes associated with mung bean sprouts. The outbreak, which also spread to Michigan, included the tragedy of two Listeria deaths.

According to FDA documents, a team of four inspectors observed a variety of conditions and employee practices at Wholesome Soy Products over a series of 10 visits to the Chicago sprout-growing facility beginning October 7 and ending October 31. Seven days later, Wholesome Soy Products verbally agreed to close its facility, cease production and distribution of sprouts, and recall sprouts that were already on the market, the FDA has said. June through August had been confirmed as the period of the Illinois sprouts Listeria outbreak.

The FDA reported that many of the unsanitary conditions observed by its inspectors during October at Wholesome Soy Products had been present at the plant during an earlier inspection in August. To be sure, they are inspectional observations and do not represent a final agency determination. But one of the observations recorded in October discussed white and yellow plastic bins in the sprout processing area holding ice used in the production of sprouts. Those same bins also were used to hold plastic bags of sprout waste, pre-treat the beans and hold sanitation equipment, the report said. The bins did not have any markings to designate a specific use, with the exception of one yellow bin labeled “USDA CONDEMNED USDA CENSURADO” in black writing, the report said. On Oct. 9, the labeled yellow bin was holding ice to be added to the bags of finished sprouts, the report said. “The bins are rinsed out and stored upside down on the floor of the sprout processing area when not in use. The bins are not identified to show clean or dirty status,” the report said. ”Listeria monocytogenes positive samples were isolated from the floor of the sprout production area.’’

In another area of the report, inspectors noted that a delivery van drove into the section of the warehouse located directly next to the sprout processing area to load finished sprouts. On Oct. 8, the van backed into the warehouse next to the processing area and was parked about five feet  from doors that were open to the southern entrance of the processing area for loading, according to the report. “Environmental swabs collected from the area of the warehouse the van drives through tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes,’’ the FDA food safety inspectors wrote. Then too, the report said that an employee of Wholesome Soy was observed “repeatedly’’ submerging their arm and a portion of their tee-shirt in cooling water while removing tofu. “Employee practices allow for potential contamination of food contact surfaces and food products,’’ the report said. Two other headings in the report on October inspectional observations at Wholesome Soy were: “Cleaning practices are not adequate,” and “Equipment and utensils not properly maintained.”

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