A civil complaint against Native American Enterprises, LLC, of Wichita, Kansas, was filed on Monday, March 21, 2016, to stop the distribution of allegedly adulterated foods. The announcement was made by the Department of Justice and filed in the U.S. District Court for Kansas. The injunction has not yet been granted, but is being sought by the government.
The company makes and distributes food, mostly ready-to-eat refried beans, meat products, and sauces, and sells them to Kansas public schools, distributors in Missouri and Kentucky, and to restaurants. Native American Enterprises, located at 230 North West Street in Wichita, was founded in 1930 and is owned by members of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Their web site states that they also provide the U.S. military with beef, buffalo, bison, pork, lamb, and poultry.
The action was filed after inspections, warning letters, and notices were sent to the company by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Principle Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement, “Insanitary conditions at food processing facilities can present significant risks to consumers and food manufacturers must take steps to minimize those risks. The Department of Justice will continue to work aggressively with the FDA to combat and deter conduct that leads to the distribution of adulterated food to consumers.”
The complaint alleges that the food prepared at the company has been “prepared, packed, and/or held under insanitary conditions, whereby the food may have become contaminated with filth or have been rendered injurious to health.” Those insanitary conditions include the presence of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in the facility, poorly maintained facilities, and improper employee practices.
In 2013, the FDA sent a warning letter to the company, stating that employees “failed to handle equipment, containers, and utensils used to convey food in a manner that protects against contamination.” In addition, walls, floors, and coving were observed to be in poor repair in the cook and pack off rooms, including holes, loose caulking, and cracks that prevent thorough cleaning and sanitizing. USDA testing that year found that five of eighty-five samples of the business’s ready-to-eat taco filling were positive for Listeria.
The facility was inspected twice in 2014. FDA inspectors collected environmental samples during the refried bean production at both visits and found Listeria in the facility. Inspectors also observed failure to maintain equipment through cleaning and sanitizing.
In August 2015, the facility was inspected again and inspectors found “numerous insanitary practices,” including rain water leaking through the roof in the packaging room, directly above where the refried beans were packaged, along with cracks and holes in the walls and floor that could harbor Listeria bacteria. Inspectors collected 100 environmental samples at that time. Thirty-four of those samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria monocytogenes thrives in moist environments and can easily become established in facilities that are not well cleaned or maintained. Once established, this bacteria is very difficult to eliminate. It can grow at refrigerator temperatures and in high-salt environments. There is zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in ready-to-eat foods.
The company has never issued a recall, and they are not prohibited from manufacturing or distributing food until an injunction is granted. The owner is working to resolve the disagreement, according to press reports.