Warning letter issued after finding listeria, inadequate sanitation at Friendly’s ice cream plant in Wilbraham

Hampden County

WILBRAHAM, Mass. (WWLP) – The United States Food and Drug Administration has found listeria and inadequate sanitation after inspecting the Friendly’s ice cream plant in Wilbraham on Boston Road.

According to the FDA, the Office of Human and Animal Food Operations sent the President and Chief Executive Officer of Friendly’s Eric Beringause a warning letter on November 22, 2019, after conducting an inspection from July 29, 2019, to August 20, 2019.

The FDA said investigators found serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation. During the inspection, the FDA also collected swabs from various areas in the processing facility and found the presence of Listeria Monocytogenes which matched the same strain from a 2017 inspection.

Listeria can be deadly in young children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. The organism can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

22News reached out to Dean Foods and Friendly’s Ice Cream and they provided the following statement:

“It is important to note that the FDA did not find any positive results in food that is packaged for consumption.

Most importantly, Friendly’s ice cream products are safe to consume. No packaged ice cream product has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes nor did the FDA require a recall of product.

In fact, since mid-August of this year, we have instituted a “hold and release” program at the plant for all finished product. Each direct food contact area is also tested daily. Finished product samples are taken for testing at startup, during, and at the end of each production run. All finished product is held and is not released until all tests from the line and finished product come back negative.”

The FDA said they received written responses from the company on August 15 and September 11 of this year describing corrective actions that were taken.

Based on recent findings, the letter was issued to express the following concerns:

  • You did not appropriately evaluate environmental pathogens as required. Eight positive swabs collected during our 2017 and 2019 inspections contain the same strain of L. monocytogenes. The presence of the same strain of L. monocytogenes over multiple years indicates that there has been a resident pathogen in your facility since 2017. Sanitation procedures have been inadequate to significantly minimize or prevent L. monocytogenes in your facility.
  • You did not take reasonable measures and precautions to ensure all persons working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials conform to hygienic practices while on duty. An employee in charge of mixing did not wash, sanitize, or change his gloves after touching scoop handles, opening boxes, and transferring products.
  • Your corporate Quality Assurance Director was observed using his bare hands to push partially overturned sundae cups through the machine. Afterward, your corporate Quality Assurance Director was observed licking ice cream off his bare hands.
  • Your plant was not constructed in such a manner that drip or condensate from fixtures, ducts, and pipes does not contaminate food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials.
  • Cake molds had food debris (white and chocolate ice cream) from previous use when exiting the dishwasher. Employees continued to use these molds without sending the molds back through the dishwasher.
  • An employee used a metal ruler to push products into a topping hopper and then placed the ruler on an unclean work cart. This ruler was used throughout production operations and was not observed being cleaned and sanitized.
  • You did not clean your non-food contact surfaces in a manner and as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials, as required.
  • Employees were observed using high-pressure hoses during cleaning activities which caused overspray and things to fall over areas it should not have.
  • Green pails designated for finished products/ingredients were used to hold overflow ice cream during production and were placed directly below pipes from which condensate dripped into them. These pails were also observed being emptied into a discarded product vat during which the rim and exterior of the pails came into contact with the discarded food and the food vat and then returned to the production line without any cleaning or sanitizing.
  • Employees were observed moving orange pails to multiple surfaces within the production environment without cleaning or sanitizing the pails between uses. These surfaces include floors, RTE product work counters, and the assembly conveyor.
  • Employees were observed using yellow brushes designated for “exterior surfaces,” such as wheels and floors, to scrub areas around food contact surfaces such as conveyor belts, scales, work tables.
  • Cloths were observed being used and re-used without adequate cleaning and sanitizing of the cloths.  We observed cloths being used in various activities during production, including wiping down condensate, conveyors, scales, and RTE cake decorating stands; covering food; and wiping off excess food from the sides of cake molds.
  • Disassembled parts and pipes from the filler were stored inside the handwashing sink. During sanitation, guards disassembled from a filler were stored on wet production floors next to a floor drain with high foot traffic the line.
  • Hoses used for sanitizer and water were not clearly marked and were observed being placed directly on wet floors, over flavor vats, and on top of multiple product contact work surfaces.

The Office of Human and Animal Food Operations notified the company of its responsibility to operate in compliance with required procedures and applicable laws.

Failure to correct inspection findings may result in regulatory action by the FDA without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure, and injunction.

Dean Foods and Friendly’s Ice cream told 22News they are taking the related findings very seriously and have begun correcting what needs to be fixed.

“At the Friendly’s plant more specifically, we have taken steps to enhance existing preventative control procedures and employee training to address the issues of concern identified in the FDA’s letter. Such actions include:

  • Enhanced sanitation and monitoring procedures have been instituted throughout the plant accompanied by augmented training for all employees.
  • We have engaged a leading third-party food safety consulting group to perform an assessment and recommend any additional changes at the plant.
  • In late December 2019, the entire plant will be completely shut down to perform intensive cleaning and sanitation. 
  • Following the sanitation treatment, a third-party microbiologist will be engaged to conduct a complete audit of the plant to confirm that Listeria monocytogenes has been eradicated from the plant. Production will not resume until we have this confirmation.”

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