A Virginia grower-shipper of fresh sprouts who has had multiple pathogen-related recalls and been under investigation by state and federal officials since 2012 is finally out of business.
A consent decree filed yesterday in federal court in Virginia effectively shuts down Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, VA, and bars owner Soo C. Park from operating in the food industry. Park and his business manufactured, repackaged and distributed fresh soybean and mungbean sprouts.
Leading up to the order by U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson, state and federal officials issued warnings and threatened action against Park and Henry’s Farm for more than three and a half years. The firm has had multiple recalls because of pathogens and its packaging did not have any traceability codes.
In May 2012 officials found Listeria monocytogenes in the growing-packing facility and in sprouts packaged for retail distribution. The Food and Drug Administration, via the U.S. Department of Justice, did not file a court complaint against Henry’s Farm Inc. or its owner until Feb. 12 this year.
During the 2012 inspection, officials noted numerous food safety violations, including filth, live and dead insects, and standing water in the sprout-growing room.
Subsequent tests and inspections by FDA and the Virginia Department in 2013, 2014 and 2015 showed Listeria contamination and the same food safety violations at Henry’s Farm Inc. growing-packing facility.
Henry’s Farm fresh sprouts went primarily to ethnic retail stores in Virginia and Maryland, state officials said during recalls in 2014 and 2015. One Virginia official theorized in 2014 that their limited distribution could explain why no illnesses had been reported in relation to Henry’s Farm sprouts.
Consumers who bought the potentially contaminated sprouts likely did not speak English and may not be as aware of foodborne illnesses as consumers who see and hear U.S. media reports.
Other Virginia officials told The Packer newspaper in 2014 that the investigation into Henry’s Farm sprout operation was the longest-running case they could recall.
Pam Miles, supervisor for the Virginia Agriculture Department’s food safety and security program, and Matt Ettinger, coordinator of the program’s food safety rapid response team, worked with staff from the FDA to resolve problems at Henry’s Farm.
Ettinger told The Packer that the owner had made some improvements. However, problems remain unresolved even though the business burned down in December 2012 and was rebuilt. Ettinger said listeria was found in product and on surfaces at both the previous facility and the new growing facility.
The Virginia officials faced a problem faced by state officials across the country who lack enforcement tools to force companies and their owners to correct food safety problems. Because of the facility’s history of listeria problems, Virginia food safety staff has been inspecting and testing at Henry’s every four months, Miles said.
“We are currently considering what action we can take against them,” Miles told The Packer Dec. 3, 2014. “Compliance is voluntary. We don’t have administrative fines so we have to go through the criminal courts if a problem isn’t resolved and the public safety is at risk.”
Because of the facility’s history of listeria problems, Virginia food safety staff eventually imposed a rigorous inspection and testing schedule, visiting Henry’s Farm every four months, Miles said.
In news releases about Judge Hudson’s order today on the consent decree, neither the FDA nor the Justice Department offered any details on why the sprout grower-packer had been allowed to continue to sell fresh sprouts in interstate commerce for more than three and a half years.
The Justice Department news release listed food safety problems found during four FDA inspections from May 2012 through December 2014 as:
- inadequate sanitation practices including;
- standing water in sprout production areas;
- sprout debris on food contact surfaces;
- failure to maintain cleaning logs;
- rodent activity in the sprout production area; and
- failure to use any antimicrobial treatment to reduce the hazard of pathogens that may be present on seed for sprouting.
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