Zoka Coffee Responds To FDA Warning Letter

Yesterday, we reported how Seattle-based coffee seller Zoka Coffee had received a warning letter from the FDA regarding an April inspection that discovered more than a few rodent feces. After the story was posted, Zoka reached out to Consumerist to give its side of the story.

The following is a letter from Zoka’s managing partner, published in its entirety:

To our valued customer, friends and members of the community,

Several media outlets have reported that we have a mouse issue. We want you to know we do not. We had an issue that has been remedied, and it was an anomaly. This is the first time we have had an incident of this nature. We have always scored high on our inspections by the Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA). And, five months after the incident, we received 93 out of 100 from the WSDA on a follow-up inspection.

Clean facilities and strong business practices are what we pride ourselves on. That is how we have built our business over the past 15 years. We also believe in clear and concise communication. This letter is intended to set the facts straight on what the Seattle PI reported on its blog today.

You should know that we addressed the issue as soon as we saw evidence of a mouse and that we have been in full compliance with the FDA throughout the process. The sad part of this entire situation is that the FDA has not provided accurate information in return.

The facts:

• April 11, 2011 – We noticed mouse activity in our production facility. We dealt with the issue right away.

• April 15 – A random inspection of our facility by the FDA included notes about the mouse activity. The random inspection was the result of a new food safety act that required more inspections, but did not include budget for them to assist in providing counsel or assisting with solutions. That inspection sparked an investigation by the FDA. After the investigation, it was our understanding that the FDA would follow up with the WSDA. The WSDA is the routine inspection agency for our plant.

• On April 16th – Once we realized the extent of the issue we voluntarily shut down our production facility for 3 days and we put in ALL of the corrections that the FDA/WSDA required, and we implemented the ones they suggested but did not require.

• April 16th-18th – We re-sanitized our 10,000 square foot facility from top to bottom. We verified that there was no more mouse activity.

• April 18 – The WSDA cleared us and we began to roast again.

• April 18th – The WSDA noted that we had done an amazing job cleaning and correcting our issues.

• September 9 – The FDA posted a report on its website that paints a very disturbing picture of what could be happening at Zoka Coffee. We did not know the letter would be posted. We received the letter ourselves on the September 12th. We have been told by the WSDA they had provided all pertinent information that Zoka Coffee Roasters was in compliance of the request of the FDA at the time of the corrections and the FDA has not responded or used that information.

• September 14 – WSDA came back for an inspection and we scored 93 out 100.

Once again, we want everyone to know that Zoka has a long track record of exceeding health requirements and that we addressed this issue upon immediately finding out about it. If you have any questions about this information, we invite you to visit our facility or visit

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150308784871555.344815.304116271554&type=1.

We are open to the public. Feel free to drop by:

1220 West Nickerson St
Seattle, WA 98019
Open from 9AM until 5PM, Monday-Friday

Thank you again for your support and respect of a true and fair process. We look forward to serving you!

Sincerely,

Jeff Babcock
Zoka Coffee and Tea
Managing Partner

UPDATE: We reached out to WSDA to see if it could confirm Zoka’s claims and received the following statement in reply:

WSDA and FDA both inspect and license Zoka. After a failing FDA inspection in April, FDA recommended that WSDA also conduct an inspection under our the state’s regulatory authority. We did so and found critical violations of food safety regulations. WSDA embargoed adulterated product and worked with Zoka as they reconditioned the product that could be saved and supervised the destruction of other products. WSDA conducted a inspection of the firm on September 14 and the firm received a passing inspection. The firm has made considerable improvements to their processes and infrastructure over the past several months.

While WSDA communicated to FDA about the status of product embargo, reconditioning and destruction, we have no knowledge what other communication has occurred (if any) between the firm and FDA about the status of process or physical improvements at Zoka. The FDA warning letter to Zoka dated September 9 was issued prior to the latest WSDA inspection.