- The Food and Drug Administration has sent embattled cookie dough manufacturer Aspen Hills a letter saying the amount of places that listeria had been found in tests — including in a vat of cookie dough — "indicates that your firm is not taking aggressive action to identify harborage sites for L. monocytogenes, to deep clean your facility effectively, and to prevent finished product contamination," according to Food Poisoning Bulletin. FDA has given Aspen Hills 15 days to correct the problems.
- From samples taken by the FDA on Sept. 28, listeria was found on a ladder to an upstairs control room, near where items used in the cookie dough are located; on the wheels of a pallet jack used to move materials; and on a basket and another item next to a place where the cookie dough is worked on. The agency's own sampling found listeria in 10 places in the factory.
- Inspectors found several problems with cleaning and sanitization of the factory, including spraying that could contaminate cookie dough, ingredients spilled on the floor and tracked throughout the factory, employees failing to sanitize what they wore after throwing away trash, rusty equipment, and holes from missing bolts that were filled with cookie dough.
After Blue Bell recalled its cookie dough ice cream because of listeria contamination, the manufacturer blamed its cookie dough supplier Aspen Hills. Aspen Hills fought back and said its cookie dough was free of contaminants, but the accusation started an investigation that led to other recalls, FDA inspections, and now this letter.
This letter from the FDA paints a picture of carelessness in Aspen Hills' facility and systemic problems. While reading through the particulars of contamination and the messes in the factory that could have turned into problems, one other thing is apparent: FDA is not letting anything slide.
Although Aspen Hills' recall is far-reaching, there were no reported illnesses from the contamination. Blue Bell voluntarily recalled its ice cream after an internal test detected listeria. Other manufacturers that had items recalled were notified by Aspen Hills. In the age of the Food Safety Modernization Act — plus extra scrutiny for Blue Bell products due to a previous recall — a preemptive threat was enough to pull products off shelves and out of storerooms.
In the letter, FDA acknowledges that some of the problems may have been corrected since last year, and vows to look into the solutions during its next inspection of the factory. However, the letter also calls out Aspen Hills for sloppy record-keeping. The cookie dough manufacturer did not offer FDA enough explanation of its processes related to the manufacturing, testing, and quantities of dough. It also did not provide version numbers and implementation dates for training on safer standard operating procedures in the factory, so FDA says it received no assurance that the company has corrected the problems found in the investigation.
These violations are reflective of the crackdown on policies and procedures that come with the implementation of FSMA. As the new regulations shifts food safety from being reactive to proactive, manufacturers will have to pay meticulous attention to anything that could impact their product — or face the wrath of the FDA for things like missing dates on paperwork.