Beyond Meat defends food safety credentials following reports of issues at Pennsylvania plant; food safety expert says devil is in the detail

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture: 'As of November 17, the department had received no complaints about the facility...' Image credit: Beyond Meat
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture: 'As of November 17, the department had received no complaints about the facility...' Image credit: Beyond Meat

Related tags: Beyond meat, Food safety, Listeria monocytogenes, Food standards agency

While claims about Listeria and contaminants in a food production facility should be taken seriously, the allegations made in a Bloomberg article alleging “dirty conditions” at Beyond Meat’s production facility in Pennsylvania lack vital context, says one food safety expert contacted by FoodNavigator-USA.

In an article in Bloomberg​ that quickly began doing the rounds on social media on Monday, reporter Deena Shanker said photos and internal documents supplied by a former employee showed “apparent mold, listeria and other food-safety issues​.”

According to Shanker’s unnamed source, ​products from the plant “tested positive for Listeria on at least 11 occasions during the second half of last year and the first half of 2022​,” a finding confirmed by two additional former employees at the loss-making firm, which recently announced plans to lay off 200 staff as part of a cost-cutting drive​.

Meanwhile, photos from inside the plant in January and April 2022 showed “what appear to be spills, unsafe use of equipment, and mold on walls and ingredient containers, while spreadsheets, photos and internally prepared reports reveal that foreign materials such as string, metal, wood and plastic have been found in food from the plant at least as recently as last December​,” claimed Shanker.  

Pennsylvania Dept of Agriculture: 'Prior to Bloomberg’s article, the department had received no complaints of the conditions they reported'

A spokesperson at the Pennsylvania Dept of Agriculture (PDA) shared the findings of a Sept. 21 'limited' inspection report with FoodNavigator-USA that was initiated "due to a media information request concerning lack of current PDA registration​." According to the report, the "firm's manager at last inspection, who was to renew the registration, left the firm and did not renew the registration."

The report shows the Beyond Meat facility in full compliance in all sections including sanitary operations, processes and controls and plants & grounds.

The spokesperson added: "Prior to Bloomberg’s article, the department had received no complaints of the conditions they reported... As of November 17, the department had received no complaints about the facility."

A March 2022 complete inspection report, also seen by FoodNavigator-USA, shows that the "plant was in good standing and had a Food Safety Plan meeting all federal Food Safety Modernization Act requirements​," said the spokesperson.

Dr. David Acheson: ‘What really matters is where in the plant they were found – in a distant drain or on a food contact surface – and there is no information about that’

Asked what he made of the article, food safety expert Dr. David Acheson, president and CEO at consultancy The Acheson Group, and a former FDA associate commissioner of foods, told us: “Finding Listeria in finished product is a problem, especially if the product would be considered ready to eat, and 11 out of 56 listeria positives is a high percentage for a plant.”

But the devil, he said, is always in the detail: “What really matters is where in the plant they were found – in a distant drain or on a food contact surface – and there is no information about that. 

“Obviously foreign material is also an issue in product irrespective of ​[whether the products are] ready to eat or ready to cook​,” he added. 

“It appears that state regulators did not see anything of concern and FDA has not been in the plant.

“My reaction to this article is that it is superficial and unsubstantiated, and the claims may be taken out of context.”

Beyond Meat: 'We are in good standing with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture'

A Beyond Meat spokesperson told us: “Our food safety protocols go above and beyond industry and regulatory standards. The most recent Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture inspections of the facility in March 2022 and September 2022 found no instances of nonconformance with regulations.

"In addition, external third-party audits, including our most recent third-party audit in May 2022, gave the plant the highest possible rating in each of the last three years. We are in good standing with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.”

Watch our 'The Future of Meat' webinar on demand (featuring Ethan Brown, CEO, Beyond Meat)

afternoon future of meat

Register here​ for free to session two in the list: FOOD TECH IN FOCUS: The Future of Meat,​ featuring:

  • Dr Elliot Swartz,​ lead scientist, cultivated meat, The Good Food Institute 
  • Ethan Brown, ​​co-founder and CEO, Beyond Meat  ​​ 
  • Dr Lisa Dyson, ​​founder and CEO, Air Protein​​  
  • Dr Tyler Huggins​​, co-founder, Meati Foods​​ 
  • Abena Foli, ​​head of regulatory affairs, Orbillion Bio​​  

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