Oregon’s politically powerful George family, owners of the George Packing Co. in Newberg, was probably expecting the July 15 warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Prominent among Oregon’s hazelnut growers, the George Packing Company last March had already been implicated in a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 attributed to unshelled hazelnuts.
The warning letter made public Tuesday says FDA inspectors were at the George packing house and warehouse from last March 1-24 and found filth and rodents, but apparently no O157 contamination.
Oregon’s 650 hazelnut growers, who produce about 35,000 tons a year, have for the past couple years dealt with Salmonella contamination and recalls.
But the multistate E. coli outbreak earlier this year, infecting eight in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, also pointed back to Oregon through DeFranco & Son in Los Angles, which was forced to recall nuts that some said came through the George Packing Co.
“The food at your facility is adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(4) of the Act [21 U.S.C. ¬ß 342(a)(4)], in that it was prepared, packed, and held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health,” the warning letter says.
“For example, our investigators broke down a pallet of Barcelona hazelnuts and observed a dead rodent among gnawed hazelnuts and numerous rodent pellets. In addition, at the time of the inspection, our investigator observed a gap under the door and between the door and the door frame on the rolling door on the west wall, as well as a gap under the rolling door on the north wall.
“These gaps were sufficient for rodents to gain access to the warehouse. Our investigator documented that you corrected these gaps prior to the close of the inspection. Nevertheless, our evidence demonstrates that rodents were already in the facility. Closing the gaps does not control the rodents that had already gained access.
“Your hazelnuts are also adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(3) of the Act [21 U.S.C. ¬ß 342(a)(3)], because they consist in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance, or are otherwise unfit for food. For example, a sample comprised of 10 subsamples collected from bags of Ennis and Barcelona hazelnuts on pallets throughout the facility during our inspection was analyzed for filth. Every subsample yielded evidence of rodent activity and filth. The evidence included mouse pellets, gnaw marks on shells and bags, feathers, human hair, mouse hair and dog/cat hair.”
The staff at George Packing Co. cleaned and sanitized the facility, but failed to document exactly what was done, FDA said.
George Packing Co. was given 15 days to respond to FDA’s warning.