Vegi-Pak Farm, Growers of Bean Sprouts, Shut Down by FDA

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bean sproutThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration said bean sprout grower Vegi-Pak Farm LLC has shut down and will clean its facilities in the wake of allegations that the Maryland company broke food safety laws.

Vegi-Pak and its president, Sun Ja Lee and general manager Brian W. Lee signed a consent decree without contest, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

Vegi-Pak Farm grows, packages and distributes ready-to-eat soybean sprouts and also distributes tofu and mung bean sprouts to markets in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.The FDA said its September 2010 inspection showed inadequate sanitizing, pest screening, numerous flies and other issues. Inspections conducted by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in August 2010 and in April and July 2008, also allegedly found similar insanitary conditions at Vegi-Pak Farm. The FDA said bean sprout production with inadequate sanitation practices in place creates a public health risk because conditions are ripe to grow listeria monocytogenes, salmonella and e. coli.

"This enforcement action shows that FDA will take strong enforcement action against companies that fail to meet federal food safety regulations to protect their customers from foodborne illness," FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Dara A. Corrigan said in a statement. "We have stopped Vegi-Pak operations until they demonstrate to the FDA that its facility and processing equipment are suitable to prevent contamination."

Any produce that is eaten raw or lightly cooked carries the risk of a foodborne illness, but sprouts -- grown in warm and humid conditions -- are ideal for bacterial growth, according to FoodSafety.gov. Last year Caldwell Fresh Foods recalled its raw alfalfa sprouts nationwide after they were blamed for a salmonella outbreak that sickened almost two dozen in 10 states.

Under the consent decree, Vegi-Pak agreed to changes including:
  • Hiring an expert to develop sanitation, food safety and other company policies.
  • Implementing product traceback and recalls systems.
  • Destroying all raw ingredients, in-process and finished food products at the facility.
  • Paying for all costs of inspection, testing, reviews and supervision.
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