FDA goes to court over NY Gourmet Salad contamination problems

FDA goes to court over NY Gourmet Salad contamination problemsThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants a Brooklyn food company that makes ready-to-eat deli salads, seafood salads and cream cheeses to clean up its facility or risk being shut down, saying the processing plant is unsanitary and contaminated with Listeria, says court documents filed Friday.

The FDA complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York by the U.S. Department of Justice, charges NY Gourmet Salads and its president Leonard F. Spada with violating the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act based on FDA inspections and asks for a permanent injunction that would close the plant unless it complied with FDA rules.

The agency said the company promised to fix problems after inspections in 2006, 2007 and 2009, but an FDA visit in March showed the company "continued to operate without adequate controls." The court papers said testing in March found the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes throughout the plant and in a batch of chick pea salad -- the same strain that was found during a 2009 inspection.

A Listeria infection can cause meningitis in its most severe form and has symptoms of high fever, stiffness, severe headache, nausea and diarrhea. Those most vulnerable are babies and people with weakened immune systems.

"Based on their longstanding pattern of conduct, defendants, unless restrained by order of this court, will continue to manufacture and distribute articles of food in violation" of the act, the complaint said. FDA spokesman Ira Allen said the issue is for a judge to decide.

NY Gourmet Salads Inc. co-owner Pat Petruzzo told Consumer Ally the company is cooperating fully with authorities and even shut down its plant for the month of April to give it a scrub-down and revamp its procedures. New York inspectors allowed the business to reopen in May. NY Gourmet Salads also recalled some of its chick pea salad in April for a potential Listeria contamination, although Petruzzo says none of the 20 pounds of contaminated salad left processing plant. The company sells its products to consumers through groceries in New York and New Jersey as well as wholesale distributors and an airline food caterer.

It was the March inspection that prompted the recall and plant closing. Petruzzo says the company is now testing every two weeks and all the results have come back showing no contamination. "We work hard here to keep everything clean," he says.

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