Corn tortillas manufactured by La Villa Tortilleria Inc. in Franklin, TN were being prepared, packed or held under unsanitary conditions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said following an inspection.

In a July 27 warning letter to La Villa, FDA said “significant violations” were found at the Tennessee corn tortilla manufacturing facility during inspections on April 20 and 22.

The food safety agency said La Villa failed to “take all reasonable measures and precautions to ensure all persons working in direct contact with food, food contact surfaces and food-packaging material to conform to hygienic practices  while on duty to the extent necessary to  protect against contamination of food.”

The inspection team cited these examples:

  • Two employees, on eight occasions, handled raw tortilla dough and then handed finished tortillas without first washing their hands.

  • Three employees, on five occasions, picked up discarded tortillas from the floor and then handled finished ready-to-eat (RTE) tortillas without first washing their hands.

  • One employee touched the front of his visibly soiled pants and then handled RTE tortillas without first washing his hands.

One employee adjusted the control knob on the raw tortilla former and then packaged RTE tortillas without first washing his hands.

Two employees, on three occasions, returned to the production room from the firm’s retail kitchen and resumed work, including handling RTE tortillas, without first washing their hands.

The warning letter also says La Villa was not maintaining it facilities in a sanitary condition to prevent food from being contaminated. Using an electric leaf blower to clean the production room floor and the tortilla conveyors was cited as an example.

Several equipment maintenance problems were cited. Inspectors said they observed that:

  • The guide used to control the fall of tortillas as they exited the oven conveyor onto the cooling conveyor was made of a plastic material, which was torn and visibly stained.

  • Paper towels were used in place of rubber gasket material in multiple components of the tortilla forming machine and in direct contact with raw tortilla dough during processing operations. Furthermore, prior to placement in the tortilla forming machine, the paper towels were dipped in a sanitizing solution observed to have a chlorine concentration above 200 ppm (part per million), which could cause the residue to become a food contaminant.

FDA  questioned the use of sanitizing agents on food contact services.  The warning letter says “our investigator observed on three occasions your employees diluted chlorinated bleach with water without measuring the amount of each component used and without testing the chlorine concentration levels of the sanitizing agent before use. 

“This diluted chlorinated bleach was used on the tortilla dough table and tortilla former components, which contact the raw tortilla dough, and was used to wipe down the stacking and packing tables, which contact RTE tortillas prior to packaging. Our investigator observed the diluted chlorinated bleach had a chlorine concentration above 200 ppm on all three occasions, which could cause the residue to become a food contaminant. “

Finally, screening at the La Villa facility was not sufficient to keep pests out.

The Nashville office of FDA’s New Orleans District asked the manufacturer to correct the violations within 15 working days.