The U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has entered into a consent decree of permanent injunction with U Joo Foods, a Chicago-based sprout processor whose production had failed to meet sanitary standards.

The decree, sought by the Justice Department on behalf of the FDA, bans the company and its owner and president, Kiyoung Chin, from processing and distributing food products until the FDA is presented with solid evidence that the processing facilities and the equipment are suitable to adequately prevent contamination and, consequently, potential foodborne illness outbreaks. The consent decree was signed on Feb. 8, 2013, by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Ready-to-eat products manufactured by U Joo Foods have been distributed mostly in the Chicago area, the FDA said in a statement.

Official statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that salmonella in sprouts is the second most common pathogen responsible for outbreak-related illnesses traced to eggs, with a total of 493 reported diseases in 2009/2010. As part of the protective measures, U Joo Foods is also required to conduct regular tests on the water where the sprouts are grown to make sure contamination is prevented.

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U Joo Foods has been warned over unsanitary conditions several times. The latest inspection was carried out to ensure that recommended steps for improvement had been implemented since they were first suggested in 2011, when FDA inspectors found that U Joo Foods prepared, packed and stored sprouts in conditions that did not comply with sanitary requirements.

However, during the follow-up inspection in 2012, the FDA found that the company had made no efforts to improve the situation noticeably. Inspectors reported that employees at the processing facility did not sanitize their gloves before handling the sprouts, the plant had inadequate toilet and hand-washing facilities and the production equipment was not properly cleaned, leaving sprout residue on the surface. Moreover, the inspection found the presence of Listeria welshimeri, which is a non-pathogenic bacterium very similar to Listeria monocytogenes.

Acting Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Melinda K. Plaisier commented that the FDA takes very decisive enforcement actions against companies that fail to meet federal safety regulations and potentially compromise consumer safety, putting them at risk of being contaminated with foodborne illnesses. Even though no illnesses have been reported in relation to this particular case, the regulator is determined to take actions to ensure that products purchased by consumers are not contaminated with filth or can cause illness, she added.