The decree, sought by the Justice Department on behalf of the FDA, prevents U Joo Foods and its owner and president, Kiyoung Chin from processing and distributing food until they demonstrate that the facility and processing equipment are suitable to prevent contamination.
The Chicago-based firm must also routinely test the water where the sprouts are grown for evidence of contamination.
According to an Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in the US for 2009-10, salmonella in sprouts (493 illnesses) ranked second in the pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most outbreak-related illnesses behind eggs (2,231).
Follow up inspection
The FDA conducted an inspection in 2012, to determine if the firm corrected violations found in 2011.
According to the complaint filed in connection with the consent decree, U Joo Foods and its owner prepared, packed, and held sprouts under unsanitary conditions.
During the 2012 inspection, the FDA found that U Joo Foods continued to have deficiencies, including workers who did not sanitize their gloves prior to touching sprouts, inadequate toilet and hand-washing facilities, and inadequate cleaning procedures evidenced by residues of sprouts on the production equipment.
The FDA also found continued presence of Listeria welshimeri, a non-pathogenic bacterium in the same genus as Listeria monocytogenes.
US District Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois signed the consent decree on 8 February 2013.
“The FDA takes strong enforcement actions against companies that fail to meet federal safety regulations protecting consumers from foodborne illness,” said Acting Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Melinda K. Plaisier.
“While no illnesses in this particular case have been reported, we are taking actions to ensure that products purchased by consumers are not contaminated with filth or cause illness.”
Kroger Co. announced in October last year that it would stop selling sprouts due to their food safety risk but added that it may revisit the policy when new technologies and practices become available.