SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Rel’s Foods makes and sells pre-packaged sandwiches tainted with deadly bacteria, the government claims in Federal Court. The Food and Drug Administration says it found traces of Listeria monocytogenes, or L. mono, throughout the ready-to-eat sandwich maker’s plant in Oakland, Calif.
Bacteria were allegedly everywhere, including on the tuna scoop and meat slicers, in the walk-in refrigerator, and on the floor, sinks and broom handles.
The company’s ham and cheese, tuna, turkey, roast beef and pesto chicken sandwiches — mostly sold at liquor stores and gas stations — also contained the bacteria, the FDA says.
Rel’s Foods’ facility “has been contaminated with two persistent strains of L. mono over the past two years,” the lawsuit states.
A 2009 FDA inspection revealed brazenly unsanitary conditions at the plant, from dirty equipment and utensils to the employees’ failure to properly wash their hands before and after handling food, according to the complaint.
The FDA says it also discovered that the use of a high-pressure hose during cleaning “presents a serious risk of L. mono contamination and cross-contamination, particularly because L. mono has been found on the firm’s floor on numerous occasions and Listeria colonizes on moist surfaces.”
The agency claims Rel’s Foods recalled its roast beef, pesto chicken and provolone pita sandwiches after laboratory testing by the U.S. Department of Defense revealed L. mono contamination, though it didn’t notify customers.
L. mono is particularly deadly to unborn and newborn babies and to people with weak immune systems, the FDA says, with the mortality rate approaching 20 percent. Pregnant mothers are also at risk, and complications from the disease can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or meningitis.
The company allegedly refuses to clean up its act, despite 10 inspections by the FDA and the California Department of Public Health, warning letters and in-person meetings with Rel’s Foods executives.
The government seeks a court order barring the company from selling tainted sandwiches and authorizing the FDA to intervene and ensure Rel’s Foods’ compliance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
It is represented by Assistant Atty. Gen. Tony West.