After Amazon took over Whole Foods Market locations nationwide this past August in a $13.7 billion acquisition, it still did not see a need to register a Kentucky food warehouse with the Food and Drug Administration.
The 10-year-old dispute between the FDA and the world’s largest internet company by revenue crept into the headlines in only the past few days. Shevaun Brown, regional operations PR manager for Amazon Strategic Communications, does not see any problem with the mega-corporation refusing to register the food warehouse.
“Food and product safety are top priorities for Amazon and our fulfillment centers are not only permitted by state and local health departments, but we have a robust food safety program to ensure our products are safe for our customers,” Brown told Food Safety News on Monday. “The Amazon fulfillment center at 1850 Mercer Road in Lexington, KY, is permitted in compliance with the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Regardless of local or state laws, companies that transport and store food are subject to the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which seeks to prevent foodborne illness instead of reacting to outbreaks. Federal registration of food warehouses began after 9/11 to defend against terrorism.
But Amazon’s Lexington warehouse is not among the more than 300,000 facilities registered with the FDA under the FSMA. More than 100,000 of those are warehouse or holding facilities.
MarketWatch reported on April 6 that FDA has sent Amazon an “untitled letter” about its lack of registration being a violation of federal law and suggested the Seattle-based behemoth might want to comply voluntarily. Amazon has reportedly told FDA it does not think that’s necessary.
Amazon fills orders at the Kentucky warehouse, which is roughly the size of 11 football fields. Stock in the warehouse includes snack foods, candy, pet food, shelf-stable beverages, and other foods.
FDA asked Amazon to register the facility as far back as July 2008 with the untitled letter, which is not as formal as an official “warning letter.” It suggested Amazon register within 30 days.
The Kentucky facility was inspected by FDA for the first time but remained unregistered in May 2010. The retailer was again informed of the need to register in 2013.
Amazon’s position in the dispute is that it is a retailer, which does not have to register. As a retailer that does not manufacture or process food, it argues, it’s outside of FSMA registration requirements.
Food Safety News asked whether other Amazon warehouses or fulfillment centers were registered with FDA, but Brown opted not to answer the question.
Before the Whole Foods takeover, Amazon did not come to mind when people thought about groceries. But Amazon has long sold most everything.
Last year, Amazon was even caught red-handed selling recalled contaminated soy nut butter. The peanut butter substitute that Amazon continued to sell after it was recalled sickened at least 32 people, including 16 children. Selling recalled food is illegal under federal law, and such transactions usually involve back alley deals, not important companies.
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