Organic-food shoppers of the Northeast, beware: Whole Foods just got a stern warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about food safety. After completing an inspection of the company's facility in Everett, MA in February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter (dated June 8) to Whole Foods' chief executives detailing “serious violations” in food handling and preparation practices. The letter described “condensate dripping from the ceiling” over multiple food preparation and assembly locations, employees “handling exposed product without hand-washing or changing gloves in between tasks,” and overall findings that food was prepared under "insanitary conditions" in which the food could be "contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health."
The FDA also conducted swab tests indicating the presence of bacteria Listeria welshimeri. While this particular bacteria doesn't cause illness, the FDA notes in the letter that its presence "demonstrates that conditions exist in and on your equipment that would support the presence and growth of Listeria monocytogenes and indicates that your cleaning and sanitation practices may not be adequate." Listeria monocytogenes are the cause of the serious foodborne illness listeria.
A total of 74 stores in the Northeast (specifically in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and northern New Jersey) are serviced by this facility. In March, Whole Foods sent a response claiming that it was taking action on the issue, but the FDA was not convinced. It is now giving the company 15 days to correct the violations — and the clock started ticking on June 8. Executive vice president of operations Ken Meyer said in a statement that the company was "honestly surprised" about the violations. “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.” Refinery29 has reached out to Whole Foods for further comment and will update if we hear back.