You might think of an Oregon sprout farm as being all clean and fresh.  You’d be wrong.

Lucky Farm Inc. is a bean sprout processing facility in Portland.  An investigation team from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spent five days at Lucky Farm last fall and the agency remains concerned enough about what they found that it has issued a “Warning Letter” to the bean sprout company.

FDA found:

The facility contained rodents, rodent excreta, and insects.  A four-inch rodent was found in the glue trap inside the processing room.  A three-inch rodent was found in the warehouse near an open door to the processing room.  Another three-inch rodent was removed by the General Manager and disposed of in the dumpster.

Rodent excreta were present in the growing room, near open bins of germinating mung bean sprouts.  More was found in the warehouse under bags of seeds.

Flies were present in the processing room, including fungus gnats that were too numerous to count in both the growing and processing rooms.

FDA says rodents and insects can contaminate food and food-contact surfaces.

Investigators also observed employees at Lucky Farm touching non-food contact surfaces during processing of the ready-to-eat bean sprouts, and then handing the food items without sanitizing their hands.  Specific instances included:

The owner picking up a rodent trap one minute and then taking a handful of sprouts out of a growing bin without washing his hands.

An employee with gloved hands touching rust on a metal door and then dipping them into the sprout wash tank without washing in between.

An employee using his gloved hands in a walk-in cooler to moving a rusty metal cart and then packing sprouts into bags without washing.

Employees were also observed touching the plastic curtain that separates the processing room and warehouse/office area, continuing to work after flies landed on their gloved hands, and using gloves with holes in them.

FDA says the failure to wash and sanitize hands can could cause the contamination of sprouts with harmful bacteria.

The Feb. 18 “Warning Letter” to Lucky Farms, which was made public Tuesday, also expressed concerns about residue inside the bean sprout wash tank.  It was described as “black and brown residue” that raises concern about whether food contact surfaces are clean and free of harmful bacteria.

Pressure washing the processing room floor was also cited as a concern.  A “slimy black residue” was splashed up from the floor into contact with sprout washing equipment during the washing and packaging of sprouts.

Gaps in the wall near the floor around a sink drain, around the loading dock door, and other areas are large enough for pests to easily enter the facility.

“Our investigators documented significant insanitary conditions,” FDA’s Seattle District Director Charles M. Breen wrote.  “These conditions cause the products manufactured, processed, and stored in your facility to be adulterated within the meaning of Section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 U.S.C. 342(a) (4)], in that your bean sprouts have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or may have been rendered injurious to health.”

In his letter to Kien D. Tran, president and owner of Lucky Farm, Breen acknowledges “the verbal commitment you made during the inspection to clean up pest activity, block holes in the facility walls, clean and repair the bean sprout holding and wash tanks, obtain a new conveyor belt, clean the processing room floor and spinner buckets, and provide additional employee training regarding hand washing and other protections against food contamination, including cleaning of the equipment and facility.”

Breen promised to check on whether Tran carries out these promises during FDA’s next inspection.  Lucky Farm was also asked to respond to the issues raised in the “Warning Letter” within 15 working days.