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The FDA Says Whole Foods' Packaged Foods Commit 'Serious Violations'

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market

When you spend your $12 (or whatever it costs) on pre-made quinoa from Whole Foods, you no doubt expect it to be at least sanitary, if not immensely healthier than average quinoa. And yet, the FDA is on Whole Foods' back for food prepared in "insanitary conditions," exactly the opposite of how the company markets itself.

In a letter addressed to the Co-CEOs of Whole Foods and dated June 8, 2016, the FDA outlines a variety of "serious violations" discovered at the Whole Foods manufactoring facility in Everett, Massachusetts. Apparently, products at the facility were prepared, packaged, and stored in conditions in which they "may have been contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health.” Yikes. 

The letter outlines six main violations, detailing instances of each. The six points made in the letter are as follows:

1. Your firm failed to manufacture, package and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination as required by 21 CFR 110.80(b)(2).

2. Your firm failed to maintain equipment in an acceptable condition through appropriate cleaning and sanitizing as required by 21 CFR 110.80(b)(1).

3. Your firm failed to sanitize and thoroughly dry, prior to use, food-contact surfaces which have been wet cleaned as required by 21 CFR 110.35(d)(1).

4. Your firm failed to take proper precautions to protect food and food-contact surfaces from contamination with chemicals, filth and extraneous materials due to deficiencies in plant design as required by 21 CFR 110.20(b)(2).

5. Your firm’s hand-washing facilities lack running water of a suitable temperature as required by 21 CFR 110.37(e).

6. Your firm failed to properly identify toxic sanitizing agents in a manner that protects against contamination of food as required by 21 CFR 110.35(b)(2).

Examples of these violations include incidents like a pesto pasta being prepared in an area where "condensate from ceiling joints was dripping onto the surface below." Mmm. Tasty.

Another example mentions workers cleaning too close to food prep surfaces, resulting in "sanitizer being sprayed onto an open colander of salad leafy greens." Definitely a zesty flavor there. You can read all the examples in the letter, which is nice and long. 

All these violations were discovered during an inspection in February, and in a statement issued to Statesman, Whole Foods' Vice President of Operations Ken Meyer said he was "surprised" by the letter. He went on to say, "We’ve been in close contact with the FDA, opened our doors to inspectors regularly since February and worked with them to address every issue brought to our attention.”

The letter from the FDA actually makes reference to Whole Foods following up on these issues with a written response on March 17, 2016. But, the FDA also states that Whole Foods didn't provide the documentation needed to prove that these sanitation concerns were being addressed, which is why there's still an issue. 

It might be time to reconsider what you're grabbing for lunch tomorrow. After all, those rotisserie chickens are delicious.

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Kara King is a News Writer at Thrillist and loves the Whole Foods salad bar. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow her at @karatillie.