FDA Shuts Down Maryland Sprout Processor

Ongoing unsanitary conditions prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to shut down a Maryland soybean sprout processor. Preparation, packing, and holding were all conducted in conditions violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Carroll County Times noted that the FDA found that unsanitary practices and conditions at Vegi-Pak Farm LLC, made the sprouts vulnerable to foodborne pathogens that include the dangerous, sometimes deadly, <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli, all of which can lead to food poisoning.

The FDA entered a consent decree with Vegi-Pak Farm after violations to the Act, including introducing adulterated food into interstate sale, were discovered, said the Carroll County Times; the soybeans were sold in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Vegi-Pak Farm’s president, Sun Ja Lee, and general manager, Brian W. Lee, agreed to the consent decree, which was entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland March 4th, said the FDA.

Doug Karas, of the FDA, said no reported illness have been linked to the sprouts; however, the consent decree and legal case against Vegi-Pak Farm originated with an FDA inspection that said, “Violations found during FDA’s September 2010 inspection of the facility included the presence of numerous flies, inadequate removal of waste, inadequate conveyance of liquid waste, inadequate screening against pests, inadequate cleaning and sanitizing of processing equipment, inadequate hand washing facilities, and poor employee sanitation practices,” quoted the Carroll Times, citing Karas’ email.

Inspections conducted the following month by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), and in April and July 2008, revealed similar unsanitary conditions at Vegi-Pak Farm, said Karas, wrote the Carroll Times.

Alan Taylor, chief of the Office of Food Protection and Consumer Health Services for DHMH, said his agency mandated that Vegi-Pak Farm cease operations February 2nd. “We had been looking at them for a while, and we had given them orders about what they had needed to do,” Taylor said, quoted the Carroll Times. “As a result of our actions, they were not selling anything [when the consent decree came out].”

The decree mandates that Vegi-Pak Farm retain an independent sanitation expert to create a sanitation plan and “destroy all in-process and finished food articles in the facility”; the FDA may require recalls, stop production, or initiate other corrective actions if additional violations are discovered, said the Carroll Times.

Because sprouts are often eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which eliminates bacteria, washing sprouts does not necessarily remove bacteria because bacteria grow within the sprouts and cannot be washed away.

Over the past 15 years, at least 30 outbreaks of food poisoning have been associated with eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts, according to the FDA.

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