FDA Warns Seattle-Based Coffee Company That Rat Poo Is Not Part Of A Seasonal Blend

UPDATE: Both Zoka and the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture have responded to Consumerist regarding the situation.
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In 2008, Seattle-based Zoka Coffee, which operates four stores and also sells packaged coffee and tea, was named Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine. In 2011, that same company is on the receiving end of a very detailed warning letter from the Food & Drug Administration after inspectors found way too many violations, including more than 1,500 bits of rodent poop.

In a warning letter dated earlier this month, the FDA writes that the following was found during an inspection in April:

Storage Area:
Two lots of whole green coffee beans contained evidence of rodent and insect infestation…

• 79 rodent excreta pellets (REPs) were observed directly on the surface of burlap bags of green coffee beans throughout a pallet of (b)(4) 132 lb. bags. Rodent nesting material was observed on the bottom layer on a pallet of stacked bags; and

• 17 REPs and one apparent insect larvae with insect webbing were observed on the surface of burlap bags of green coffee beans on a stacked pallet of (b)(4) 132lb bags…

• 55 REPs were observed on the surface of burlap bags of green coffee beans throughout a pallet of (b)(4) 132lb burlap bags. A gnaw hole approximately 1/2 inch in diameter was found on one burlap bag. Three insect larvae with webbing and two live insects were found on the outside of the burlap bags;

• 10 REPs were observed on the surface of burlap bags of green coffee beans on a pallet of (b)(4) 132 lb. burlap bags. 12 REPs were found on the cardboard slip underneath the pallet; and

• 27 REPs were observed inside the shrink-wrap surrounding (b)(4) pallets, each containing (b)(4) 132 lb. burlap bags of green coffee.

Production Room:
• At least 200 REPs and a fluorescent stain were observed on and around the bottom shelf of a shelving unit stored in the southwest area;

• At least 115 REPs were observed along the floor/wall junction and among stored boxes in the southwest area;

• At least 144 REPs were observed on the floor surrounding and throughout two stacks of empty pallets stored in the southwest corner;

• 68 REPs were observed on the floor along the south wall in the southeast corner;

• 52 REPs were observed on the floor between plastic bins containing roasted coffee and the west wall;

• A hole behind a shelving unit in the southeast corner containing at least 3 REPs;

• An approximately 20 inch wide gap approximately 4 inches above the floor/wall junction between the cement ledge and wood wall along the west wall, containing 55 REPs;

• At least 90 REPs were observed against the south wall between the (b)(4) and (b)(4) rows of pallets containing green coffee beans in burlap bags;

• At least 300 REPs and fluorescent stains were observed on the floor along the west wall south of the main stairwell; and

• 33 REPs were observed against the south wall between the two western most rows of pallets containing green coffee beans in burlap bags.

Training Room:
• 22 REPs were observed in the production room along the front floor/wall junction;

• At least 100 REPs were observed at the floor/wall juncture behind storage racks and Styrofoam packaging material along the south wall;

• 55 REPs were inside a cardboard box with loose tea; and

• Three holes were observed along the north wall, 1 inch wide containing 4 REPs, 2 1/2 inches wide, and 6 inches in width containing 6 REPs.

Break Room:
• At least 40 REPs were observed at the floor/wall junction along the north wall;

• At least 120 REPs were observed on the surface of two tables along the east wall, and at least 175 REPs were observed beneath the same two tables; and

• Two holes, were observed, one hole, 2 1/4 inches wide, in the northeast corner, and one hole, 2 1/2 inches wide, along the south wall, containing at least 4 REPs.

Tea Repackaging Area:
• REPs were observed on the floor and on shelving units.

One live rodent, approximately 4 inches long, was observed in an open doorway leading from the main stairwell toward the tea re-packing area.

The FDA acknowledges that Zoka responded to the inspector’s concerns in May, but that the response was inadequate.

“Your response did not specifically address what, if any, corrective actions you have taken to clean the rodent excreta pellets that were observed in your facility and to sanitize the areas where the pellets were found,” writes the FDA. “Nor did you provide documentation of other corrective actions.”

The FDA also stated the Zoka’s responses regarding concerns about employee sanitation, food storage, and other issues was inadequate.

The agency has given Zoka 15 days to respond in detail, including “each step taken or that will be taken to correct the violations and prevent recurrence. You should include in your response any documentation or other useful information that would assist us in evaluating your corrections. If you cannot complete all corrections before you respond, you should explain the reason for your delay and state when you will correct any remaining violations.”

UPDATE: We have spoken to a rep for Zoka, who says the company has been working with the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture and that it quickly got the conditions at its facilities back up to snuff following the FDA inspection. Zoka points out that the FDA has not yet done a re-inspection of the building. The company says it has photos and documentation to demonstrate that it is now in compliance and will be sending them to Consumerist soon.

WARNING LETTER [FDA.gov]

Thanks to Camille for the tip!