Health

Monday, Dec 02 2013 06:42 PM

Food company shuts down to improve sanitation

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

A local food company agreed to stop processing and distributing goods last week until it takes steps to improve sanitation at its Bakersfield facility, according to a court agreement.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors noticed unsanitary conditions at Alfred Louie Inc.'s facility at 4501 Shepard St. dating back to 2000, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District of California on Nov. 14.

The company makes and distributes ready-to-eat mung bean and soybean sprouts and wheat flour noodles, according to an FDA news release. The company also packs and distributes other food products such as flour, nuts and spices from other manufacturers, the news release said.

The complaint filed by Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, alleged that inspectors noticed sanitary concerns at the facility this spring, including workers eating sprouts off a production line, rodent pellets and "fecal clumps" throughout the facility, and cases of raw chicken stored beside boxes of fresh herbs, noodles and bean sprouts on a pallet in a walk-in refrigerator and dripping "a pinkish liquid" onto the floor.

The FDA tested swabs taken from the business in April and May and found Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause a serious infection called Listeriosis, in the business' sprouts and its facility. But the news release said no illnesses have been reported in people who ate the company's products.

The complaint said investigators repeatedly voiced their concerns to the business' owners, Gordon and Victor Louie, during prior inspections and though they corrected some of the violations, the Louies failed to stamp out Listeria monocytogenes and "create sustainable sanitation practices."

The company agreed to abstain from receiving, processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding and distributing food until the terms of a court order are met, according to court records.

Among the requirements, the company must hire an independent lab to test samples from the facility for Listeria monocytogenes. The company also must hire an expert to develop and execute a "Sanitation Control and Food Safety Plan" that covers everything from the company's growing and manufacturing processes to employee health and hygiene processes, the court order said.

The company must report its progress to the FDA, which will have the power to approve the plan.

Within 30 days, the company must destroy all the raw ingredients, as well as finished and in-process food it has, with some exceptions, the court order said.

After the company resumes operation, the FDA may still require the business to recall products or stop production if the regulator finds problems, the news release said.

"Companies have a responsibility to ensure that the food they produce is safe to eat and is made in accordance with federal law," said Melinda K. Plaisier, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in a news release. "When a company continues to produce food that presents a risk for consumers, the FDA will take whatever steps necessary to protect public health."

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