Secret Rodent Infestation Uncovered

California health department issues embargo, calls for national recall at east bay food distributor.

By Tony Kovaleski, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla
|  Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012  |  Updated 12:57 PM PDT
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Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski uncovers a secret rodent infestation at an East Bay food distributor, prompting the California Department of Public Health to shut down the facility and request a national recall. Originally aired 7/24/12.

Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski uncovers a secret rodent infestation at an East Bay food distributor, prompting the California Department of Public Health to shut down the facility and request a national recall. Originally aired 7/24/12.

The California Department of Public Health has told NBC Bay Area News that a “massive rodent infestation” has lead the state agency to shut down a major East Bay food distributor and request that the company launch a nationwide recall. The actions came after the state learned about a two-month NBC Bay Area investigation.

The state agency placed an embargo on Fremont-based San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company earlier this month and now has requested that the natural food, tea and herb distributor recall products it has recently sold in California and throughout the country. The embargo prevented the company from selling and distributing more than a million pounds of product in California and to its online customers throughout the world.

“We found a massive rodent infestation throughout the facility including direct product infestation,” Patrick Kennelly, Chief of the Food Safety Section of the California Department of Public Health told NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski. Kennelly said state inspectors also found evidence of  “dead rodent bodies, live bodies, fecal and urine contamination on products.”

According to the company’s website, San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company has been in business for 40 years. Its warehouse facility is located in Fremont off of Highway 880, just north of the former Solyndra Plant.

Kennelly said the decision to shut down the facility and request a nationwide recall came after state health inspectors discovered a massive rodent infestation in late June, adding that his inspectors found “evidence that products in the facility had been adulterated by filth including rodent excrete and rodent urine.”

He added that state inspectors also discovered rodents burrowing into products.

“It is still a very active infestation in the facility,” Kennelly said.

According to the state, the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company are cooperating with investigators and are expected to announce the company’s voluntary national recall in the next two days.

When asked if the actions were unusual Kennelly responded, “It is very unusual. This is a 150,000 square foot warehouse that has two stories and for us to embargo all the products in that facility because of the massive level of contamination throughout the facility, occurs very rarely.”

NBC Bay Area’s ongoing investigation began in May and in recent weeks Kovaleski contacted the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company. The owners offered no comment and declined to review any of the information uncovered by the investigation. The owners hired an attorney who contacted the Investigative Unit at NBC Bay Area and said the company would have no comment.

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