FDA warns Kellogg over listeria in Georgia plant

LOS ANGELES Tue Jun 14, 2011 3:05pm EDT

A store employee moves boxes full of of Kellogg's cereal in a supermarket in New York April 29, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A store employee moves boxes full of of Kellogg's cereal in a supermarket in New York April 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. regulators warned Kellogg Co that they found the illness-causing bacterium listeria monocytogenes while inspecting a company cookie plant in Augusta, Georgia.

In a letter dated June 7, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it found "significant violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations for food manufacturers". The CGMP regulations describe the methods, equipment, facilities and controls for making processed food.

Kellogg makes a variety of Keebler and Famous Amos cookies at the factory and says it has "undertaken a number of aggressive actions to address (the FDA's) concerns, including comprehensive cleaning and extensive testing."

Kellogg shares were down 39 cents, or 0.7 percent, at $55.02 in afternoon trading.

"While the FDA did not identify specific concerns with the food, we take this situation very seriously ... We have confidence in the safety of our food," Kellogg spokeswoman Kris Charles said.

Based on the findings of the inspection, FDA said it had "determined that the foods manufactured at your facility are adulterated ... in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health."

FDA said Kellogg had 15 working days following receipt of the letter to outline what it planned to do to correct the violations.

HEIGHTENED AWARENESS

This is not the first time Kellogg has faced such issues.

The Augusta bakery was inspected in January 2010 by FDA officials, who then recommended some changes to the company's ingredient-storing practices. The changes were made immediately, said Kellogg's Charles.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher Growe said attention on food safety is heightened at Kellogg, following a massive recall of cereal last year due to an unusual waxy flavor and smell, and a recall of some Keebler cookies and Special K protein bars in 2009.

"While we cannot completely dismiss this episode, we believe Kellogg places a high emphasis on food safety and despite the recent track record, this warning letter is not the sign of a lingering ongoing epidemic within the company," Growe said.

Eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes can cause a dangerous infection called listeriosis. Symptoms may include diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of those infected, about 260 die. Infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection to the child, CDC said.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein and Martinne Geller; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Bernard Orr)

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