When Angelenos gather at their favorite delis and the talk turns to pickles, they often learn the source is A-1 Eastern Homade.   

A-1 supplies pickles to many delis in the Greater Los Angeles area, and for customers who find its Johnston Street processing facility, it will sell 5-gallonsof take-home kosher pickles for just $18.

But last November, A-1 had to destroy about 20 totes, or 40,000 pounds, of fermented cucumbers when U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators found them soaking in brine, with flying insects about, while they were being stored open and exposed in the company’s storage warehouse shed.

In the future, A-1 said it would cover all totes.

Altogether, FDA inspectors identified 10 violations of Current Good Manufacturing Practices.  FDA outlined those in a Feb. 14 warning letter to A-1.  

A brief summary of the violations follows:

Pests – Flying insects were observed in the storage shed, processing room (during production of relish), and outside area pending processing.

Screening – There was no screening to prevent pests from entering the processing room nor the processing room.

Raw Materials – Fermented cucumbers and pickles were being transported in open totes, and a plastic tarp used to cover bulk totes of dill pickles and dill chips was soiled, punctured, and partially submerged in dill pickles.

Equipment – Three conveyor belts used to process ready-to-eat pickles were frayed, torn, shredded and stained. There was a build up of residue where the belt was stapled together.  Nets were frayed and embedded with pickle residue.  Sections of the line were held together only with C-clamps, rusted vice grips, plastic and rubber bans.

Contact Surfaces — Seams and welds on food contact surfaces were not smoothly bonded and maintained, but rather were collecting food residue and rust.

Packaging – A packaging employee was seen touching soiled surfaces and handling dill pickles without changing soiled gloves. Also, dill pickle jar lids that had fallen on the wet packing room floor were picked up and placed on jars.

Cleaning – Pickles were wedged in a conveyor belt frame, dried cucumber seeds and pickle residue were on the conveyor belt, dill pickle shaker, rotary cutter blades, and relish auger box and screen. Other areas had pickle and sauerkraut residue, mold and debris, and recycled kegs were only being rinsed between uses, not washed.

Utensils – A vat lid was placed directly on the floor during cleaning, and water from a hose splashed from the floor onto plastic bag liners used for packing.

Buildings – Windows in the packing room near the first pickle conveyor belt were cracked and broken, and there was peeling paint and mold in the processing room directly above exposed dill chips at the dill shaker.

Plumbing – Hoses in the processing room and packaging room lacked backflow prevention devices.

A-1 responded to the FDA 483 report on the inspection in a document dated Dec. 14.  FDA did not address what A-1 said in that document because it was received more than 15 working days after the close of inspection. A-1 was asked to respond to the warning letter within 15 working days.  FDA said it would then evaluate whether A-1 has corrected the violations.