A letter sent to Aspen Hills from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blames the company for not doing enough to prevent the spread of Listeria monocytogenes in their processing facility.
The letter, sent in early January 2017, specifically states that the sheer amount of Listeria found in tests of both the facility and cookie dough itself “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," The letter allotted Aspen Hills 15 days to correct the problems.
Last fall, Blue Bell Creameries recalled packages of its ice cream flavors containing chocolate chip cookie dough due to the possibility of Listeria contamination. The implicated ice creams were produced at a plant in Alabama and the products were distributed to 10 states--Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Blue Bell quickly shifted blame to Aspen Hills, the third party supplier who provided the cookie dough for the ice cream. At the time, Aspen Hills maintained that their product was not contaminated.
In late September 2016, FDA detected four positive environmental swabs at the Aspen Hills plant, and traces of Listeria were found in 10 places throughout the facility. Some of the oddest places were:
- On a ladder to an upper level control room close to where cookie dough ingredients are housed.
- On the wheels of a pallet jack used to transport materials
- On a basket near the cookie dough processing area
One finished batch of cookie dough that tested positive for Listeria was not distributed
FDA officials also noted a number of problems in relation to the facility’s cleaning and sanitizing practices. Inspectors witnessed spraying methods that could contaminate uncovered food products, spilled ingredients tracked throughout the processing facility, failure amongst employees to sanitize protective gear after throwing away trash, equipment that showed signs of rusting, and machinery with holes from missing bolts that were instead filled with cookie dough. The agency also claims that Aspen Hills’ record-keeping could use some improvement as well. The company lacked details about manufacturing methods, testing, training and cookie dough quantities.
Despite the laundry list of issues at the Aspen Hills facility, no outbreaks or illnesses have been reported in relation to the Listeria contamination.
UPDATE: In early February 2017, the owners of Aspen Hills reportedly decided to cease operations at their Iowa processing plant. The owners are in the process of either selling their business or dissolving it in some other manner. A statement claims that operations that the cookie dough facility have been halted since the end of December.