Kellogg's Eggo brand to remain challenged

by Food Safety Monitor Staff
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration in late January issued a warning letter to the Kellogg Co. requiring the company to address a number of sanitation violations in connection with Listeria monocytogenes contamination of Eggo buttermilk waffles at its Atlanta facility.

In a warning letter dated Jan. 27 and posted on the F.D.A. web site Feb. 16, the F.D.A. provided details of an Oct. 22-29 inspection at Kellogg’s Atlanta facility following the finding by the Georgia Department of Agriculture in late August that led to the recall of two products within its Eggo brand — Cinnamon Toast waffles and Toaster Swirlz. None of the Buttermilk product was shipped into the marketplace.

According to the F.D.A., the agency’s investigators observed employees in the mixing room using high pressure water to clean equipment that splashed near exposed raw materials. Inspectors also observed an uncovered cart containing trash located within close proximity of exposed raw materials in the mixing room, as well as observed condensate and “drippage” in the waffle production area above lines that were transporting exposed products.

Other sanitation violations noted in the F.D.A. report included a maintenance employee not wearing gloves while touching exposed finished product and an employee touching his nose and moustache, after washing his hands, and not using sanitizer or re-washing his hands before returning to the work area.

“We acknowledge receipt of your response (updated Nov. 18, 2009) in response to F.D.A.’s positive L. monocytogenes environmental swabs,” the F.D.A. wrote in the warning letter. “Although your response lists a number of corrective actions directly associated with the positive test results, including sanitizing certain equipment and limiting employee access to certain processing areas, it is essential to identify all areas of your facility where L. monocytogenes is able to grow and survive (niche areas) and to take such corrective actions as necessary to control the organism.

“In addition, F.D.A. recommends that your sanitation controls include effective environmental monitoring programs designed to identify and eliminate and/or control pathogens such as L. monocytogenes in and on surfaces and areas in the facility where contamination could result in food product contamination. Finally, your response does not address the C.G.M.P. deviations identified in this letter.

“This letter is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of violations that may exist at your facility. You are responsible for ensuring that your processing plant operates in compliance with the Act and applicable regulations. You should take prompt action to correct these violations. We may take further action if you do not promptly correct these violations. For instance, we may take further action to seize your product(s) and/or enjoin your firm from operating.”

Responding to the F.D.A.’s letter, Kris Charles, a spokesperson with Kellogg, said “the safety of our foods is of utmost importance to Kellogg Co.”

“While the F.D.A. letter was filed publicly (Feb. 16), the situation described in the letter relates to inspections conducted in October after the plant was closed for enhanced cleaning and the flood in Atlanta that affected our facility,” Ms. Charles said. “Before opening the facility, we worked cooperatively with both the agency and the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and we completed comprehensive testing and monitoring. We have made a variety of enhancements in our facility, and have fully addressed all of the observations in the letter. We will be filing our response with the F.D.A. to this effect shortly.”

During the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, held in Boca Raton, Fla., in mid-February, David Mackay, president and chief executive officer of The Kellogg Co., said the company’s Eggo production would be affected through the first half of the year due to the issues at its Atlanta facility as well as its largest Eggo production facility in Rossville, Tenn.

“The flood back in Atlanta, which was really, I think, the end of September last year took us out (of production) for about four to six weeks and we had to rectify the plant because as soon as you get water in a plant it creates all sorts of issues,” he said. “We have worked closely with the F.D.A. in going through and getting all of those issues cleaned up before we restarted the plant and that plant is performing well.

“Then in Rossville, which is our biggest facility, I think we mentioned on the call that was one where we started to do some renovations and some enhancements to the plant. Though, to be quite frank, when we went to bring the plant back up we created some issues that we have worked for the last six months to fix and have not been able to get that facility back to its prior capacity output. And that is really probably the biggest single issue for Eggo because it's half of our Eggo supply.”

Mr. Mackay said the company has told its customers that the issues may be with the company for the next 6 to 12 months. As a result, the company has cut the number of s.k.u.s (stock-keeping units) so that it may “service the market to the extent that limited s.k.u.s can work better for us.

“Our view is that we will have that situation for probably the balance of this year.”
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