Whole Foods Market is closing down all three of its regional kitchens that prepared ready-to-eat food — including the one in Everett, MA, that netted the grocery chain an FDA warning letter citing Listeria problems — and will be using outside suppliers instead.
The move comes almost a year after inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration discovered a long list of “serious violations” at the Massachusetts facility during a February 2016 visit.
Officials with the grocery chain headquartered in Austin, TX, did not reference the situation with the so-called North Atlantic Kitchen in recent statements about the kitchen closures, which include operations in Atlanta and Landover, MD.
“As part of our ongoing plan to streamline operations, we have decided to leverage the expertise of our supplier network to create some of the high-quality prepared foods sold in our stores,” Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready said in a written statement to media.
The FDA did not order the North Atlantic kitchen to cease operations, despite a list of more than 20 violations. Whole Foods responded in writing to the FDA’s warning letter in June 2016, but the agency did not find the response “adequate.”
As of Tuesday, the FDA had not posted a closeout letter regarding the North Atlantic kitchen, indicating the issues cited in the warning letter were not yet resolved.
Whole Foods officials touted the 70,000-square-foot North Atlantic kitchen as a state-of-the art facility when it opened in August of 2012, citing its renewable energy system that generates power using recycled waste cooking oil generated by the commissary’s industrial fryers and local Whole Foods Market stores.
Less than four years later, in February 2016, FDA inspectors found Listeria on food contact surfaces there and many other problems.
“This finding demonstrates that conditions exist in and on your equipment that would support the presence and growth of Listeria monocytogenes and indicates that your cleaning and sanitation practices may not be adequate,” said the FDA warning letter.
Inspectors specifically noted employees splashing dirty water on to ready-to-eat vegetables while washing their hands, condensation dripping into barrels of egg salad and onto food preparation surfaces while employees were chopping vegetables there, and overspray from a bottle of ammonium-based sanitizer landing on an open colander of salad leafy greens.
The Whole Foods facility also lacked hand adequate washing facilities and inspectors found an unmarked drum of chemicals in the vegetable prep area.
Whole Foods continued to operate the North Atlantic kitchen until earlier this month. It is scheduled to permanently close in March.
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