Whole Foods warned by FDA

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AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market Inc. co-chief executive officers John Mackey and Walter Robb received a letter from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month that no food industry executive wants to receive — one warning the co-chiefs of “serious violations” that came to light in February after FDA officials inspected one of the company’s food preparation facilities in Everett, Mass.

Dated June 8, the letter stated that the federal inspectors found various food products placed underneath “condensate” that was leaking from the ceiling and doorway as well as the condenser fan. Pesto pasta, mushroom quesadillas, egg salad and couscous were among the food items vulnerable to this condensation.

Other violations cited by the FDA included the failure to sanitize food preparation surfaces, dirty dishes near food, sinks without hot water for hand washing and a worker who sprayed an ammonium-based sanitizer on “an open colander of salad leafy greens.”

According to the FDA, Whole Foods responded in March to these safety violations and concerns by stating that the company took the agency’s findings seriously and would address and correct the issues.

The FDA, however, conveyed skepticism regarding the response from Whole Foods, expressed “serious concerns” about the violations uncovered during the inspection of the Everett facility and seemed unconvinced of the company’s willingness to address the problems, stating in the June 8 letter, “We do not consider your response acceptable, because you failed to provide documentation for our review.”

Investors, evidently, were also not enthusiastic about the violations and the response from Whole Foods to the FDA’s letter, as the company’s shares fell precipitously after information about the FDA letter came to light. That drop follows a downward trend for Whole Foods, whose stock fell more than 10% in 2014 — then based on slumping sales, not food safety, concerns. And in 2015, the company’s stock plummeted 35% upon accusations it overcharged customers, as well as other health concerns.

This latest headache hits the company while it is in the midst of expansion, having recently opened its first 365 by Whole Foods Market store in California — which, according to the company, offers more affordable products aimed at the growing consumer base of Millennials.


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