FDA warning comes three months after inspectionWhen Jim Zuccaro received a warning from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, he was puzzled. Inspectors checked his Minneapolis company early this year, but after their visit Feb. 4 he didn’t hear anything.

The FDA’s letter, which arrived May 9, cited “insanitary conditions” in a lettuce processing room at Zuccaro’s Produce Co.

“The inspector asked me about water dripping from the ceiling in our processing room,” Zuccaro, company vice president, said May 18. “I explained that it is a room we wash down three to five times a day and that the water was not condensation. It was from our guy spraying down the entire room.”

Zuccaro said he thought that was the end of it, but the warning letter ordered Zuccaro to resolve the “condensation” issue and notify the FDA’s Minneapolis Division Office within 15 days or face possible regulatory action without further notice.

“For instance,” the letter states, “we may seize your products and/or enjoin your firm from operating.”

The company was incorporated in 1937 and Jim Zuccaro is the third-generation of his family to be involved in the wholesale food business.

Zuccaro said he called Gerald Berg, the FDA’s district director in Minneapolis, and was referred to someone else who did not call back.

The Packer’s calls to the FDA Minneapolis District Office on May 18-19 were not returned.

On May 12, Martha Steinhart of the Minnesota Agricultural Department visited the business. Zuccaro and a spokesman from the state department said Steinhart did not find a dripping condensation problem.

“After we saw the (FDA’s) warning letter come out Martha went out and checked,” said state agricultural department spokesman Michael Schommer on May 18.

Schommer said that the FDA did not ask the state department to check Zuccaro’s, and that the federal agency has sole jurisdiction over the warning it issued.

It is standard practice for the state to check up on situations when a federal agency cites concerns, he said. The state inspector did issue some minor “inspection orders,” Schommer said, which included things like a broken carrot peeler. The peeler was thrown away while the inspector was present.

Although Zuccaro feels vindicated by the state inspection, he is in limbo with the FDA. As of May 18 he had not heard from the federal agency.

The processing room cited in the FDA’s warning letter was completely renovated in 2003, as was the rest of Zuccaro’s facility. The renovation included new copper water lines and a dedicated water heater for the processing room to ensure sanitary conditions, Zuccaro said.