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Kellogg Battles Listeria Niche in Cookie Plant

At its Augusta, GA factory, Kellogg makes many of its baked products — including Keebler, Famous Amos and Murray cookies, as well as Kashi and Mother’s brand products.

The plant was also growing Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that can cause serious  illness and sometimes death.

That was in February, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected the Augusta bakery that employs more than 500 people. FDA did environmental sampling that came back positive for Listeria monocytogenes in 15 locations, including some food contact surfaces.

Kellogg then shut down the plant for cleaning and made floor and roof repairs.

In a June 7 warning letter to John Bryant, chief executive officer of the Kellogg Company, FDA said the environmental sampling proved Listeria was “established in niche areas” inside the Georgia plant.

The warning letter was released Tuesday.

Listeria contamination was found along food contact surfaces including the conveyor mesh and belt of the spiral cooler in the production line. Analysis using Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) showed a pattern that was indistinguishable from the environmental samples collected in the plant. FDA found it highly likely the same strain was being transported throughout the facility.

Kellogg, which issued a statement Tuesday saying food safety was of “utmost importance” to the company, has met with FDA officials in both Atlanta and Silver Springs, MD since the Listeria problem was discovered. It has also twice written FDA about corrections at the Georgia plant.

A request by Food Safety News for a copy of Kellogg’s written response to the warning letter went unanswered.

Problems inside the plant cited by FDA may be contributing to the problem, included drips or condensate from pipes, causing water to pool and potentially contaminate food surfaces.  Flies were seen around drains and a flour mixer.

Kellogg promised to remove pipes to control the dripping problem and to use pressurized aerosol insecticide on the flies.

FDA said it would determine at its next inspection whether the steps taken by Kellogg  are sufficient. In the meantime, FDA gave the company 15 working days to respond to the warning letter with documentation.

“We have undertaken a number of aggressive action to address their (FDA) concerns, including comprehensive cleaning and extensive testing, and have confidence in the safety  of our food,” said Kris Charles, Kellogg spokeswoman.

Listeria can be very difficult to eradicate once the pathogen takes hold inside a food plant. Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto found that out three years ago when its failure to eradicate Listeria led to a nationwide outbreak linked to deli meats that killed 22 mostly elderly Canadians.

Two years ago, local development authorities in Georgia provided $30 million in tax-exempt bond financing for improvements at the Kellogg’s facility in Augusta. The Battle Creek, MI-based company also made fairly recent investments in $5 million worth of equipment relocated to the former Murray’s Biscuits plant.

Kellogg Company sales totaled more than $12 billion last year. It has manufacturing facilities in 18 countries and markets products in more than 180 counties. Problems at some of its U.S. plants last year led to a shortage of its popular Eggo frozen waffles and several popular cereals had to be recalled over packaging problems.

© Food Safety News
  • Kate

    Curious to know if Listeria is ever a problem in one’s home?

  • John

    “Kellogg promised to… use pressurized aerosol insecticide on the flies.” Uh, you mean “bug spray?” Good to know they are going to be spraying poison around in their food facilities.
    And how can they simply remove dripping pipes, when surely those pipes were there serving a purpose and can’t simply be removed.
    Also, they state they are going to undertake “compressive cleaning” to address the FDA’s concerns. Does this mean they are going to use pressure washers to clean surfaces? Do they not realize that this will serve to hugely distribute bacteria onto surrounding surfaces? Foaming cleansers and manual scrubbing are the ideal cleaning solution… Pressure washers will only serve to spread filth by aerosolizing it. Or maybe by “compressive cleaning” they mean the will use compressed air to dust off surfaces, which would be even worse than the liquid pressure washers.
    Sounds like a bunch of inexperienced or non-qualified individuals are leading the food safety at Kellogg’s plants.

  • hhamil

    The FDA warning letter is posted at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm258912.htm. I urge Food Safety News’ (FSN) readers to read it.
    This article does not include the following significant information:
    1.) The FDA’s letter declared “the foods manufactured at your facility are adulterated” but unlike Morningland Dairy, Bravo Cheese, et al, there is no indication that the FDA has requested a recall much less seized any food nor ordered any food destroyed.
    2.) Kellogg’s issued a document entitled “Augusta Hygienic Reset” in November 2010 and revised it on February 08, 2011 which was given to the FDA. Thus, it appears that Kellogg and the FDA were aware of problems long BEFORE the FDA’s environmental testing was made thereby allowing Kellogg the opportunity to attempt to clean things up before the FDA’s testing was done.
    3.) The warning letter states it “is not an all-inclusive list of violations that may exist at your facility.”
    4.) Despite the above, the only regulatory action the FDA has taken has been this warning letter.
    Once again, Food Safety News has failed to fully report questionable performance by the FDA.

  • Minkpuppy

    Kate–I think you’d be shocked at what’s growing in your home. Many home cooks are not as sanitary as they should be and end up cross contaminating multiple surfaces with a variety of bacteria from their food, pets and general environment.
    John–it’s actually quite common to spray for bugs and flies in food plants. However, they should be using pesticides approved for use in food establishments; they can only spray during non-production times to avoid contaminating the food and should be cleaning the food contact surfaces thoroughly before use to remove residues. It’s quite easy to verify this is being done in meat plants under FSIS jurisdiction because the plants have to document all their pest control and sanitation measures and FSIS inspectors perform operational sanitation inspections daily. I have no idea what happens in FDA plants though.
    Listeria is pretty tough to remove in any environment–it’s not a matter of just hosing stuff off and hoping for the best. I’m hoping the use of “compressive” was a typo and what was actually meant was “comprehensive”. What’s needed is a floor to ceiling cleaning of every surface in the plant, including all drains and air ducts using detergents designed to kill and reduce Listeria and other pathogens.

  • mrothschild

    Kate: Yes, listeria can be a problem at home, particularly because it flourishes under refrigeration. The greatest risk at home would likely be from cold cuts or deli meats, especially meats that were sliced at a deli counter, or soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Public health experts say opened packages of lunch meat should be kept no longer than 3 to 5 days, and deli counter meat no longer than four days, in the fridge. The CDC and USDA are pretty much hyper-sensitive about the relative risk – and recommend that people at greatest risk (the elderly and pregnant women) simply avoid these foods or at the very least reheat hot dogs and deli meats to 165 degrees. But the reason for their concern is that if you’re unlucky enough to get listeriosis, it can be very scary – one out of five people infected die – and the pathogen is especially toxic to a fetus.

  • mrothschild

    Minkpuppy and John: Sorry, compressive was a typo. I fixed it (and thank you for pointing it out).

  • Harry Hamil

    The FDA warning letter is posted at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm258912.htm. I urge Food Safety News’ (FSN) readers to read it.
    This article does not include the following significant information:
    1.) The FDA’s letter declared “the foods manufactured at your facility are adulterated” but unlike Morningland Dairy, Bravo Cheese, et al, there is no indication that the FDA has requested a recall much less seized any food nor ordered any food destroyed.
    2.) Kellogg’s issued a document entitled “Augusta Hygienic Reset” in November 2010 and revised it on February 08, 2011 which was given to the FDA. Thus, it appears that Kellogg and the FDA were aware of problems long BEFORE the FDA’s environmental testing was made thereby allowing Kellogg the opportunity to attempt to clean things up before the FDA’s testing was done.
    3.) The warning letter states it “is not an all-inclusive list of violations that may exist at your facility.”
    4.) Despite the above, the only regulatory action the FDA has taken has been this warning letter.
    Once again, Food Safety News has failed to fully report questionable performance by the FDA.

  • Mary Rothschild

    Kate: Yes, listeria can be a problem at home, particularly because it flourishes under refrigeration. The greatest risk at home would likely be from cold cuts or deli meats, especially meats that were sliced at a deli counter, or soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Public health experts say opened packages of lunch meat should be kept no longer than 3 to 5 days, and deli counter meat no longer than four days, in the fridge. The CDC and USDA are pretty much hyper-sensitive about the relative risk – and recommend that people at greatest risk (the elderly and pregnant women) simply avoid these foods or at the very least reheat hot dogs and deli meats to 165 degrees. But the reason for their concern is that if you’re unlucky enough to get listeriosis, it can be very scary – one out of five people infected die – and the pathogen is especially toxic to a fetus.

  • Mary Rothschild

    Minkpuppy and John: Sorry, compressive was a typo. I fixed it (and thank you for pointing it out).