The Los Angeles city attorney's office filed criminal charges Monday against officials of a major West Coast tofu supplier, citing "grossly filthy conditions" at its downtown Los Angeles plant, including high levels of coliform, a bacteria found in fecal matter that can cause severe food poisoning.
"You think of tofu as a health food, but this is anything but," said Deputy City Atty. Ruth Kwan of the office's consumer protection section.
2 Previous Prosecutions
The plant, at 4607 S. Main St., has been the subject of two previous criminal prosecutions, in 1979 and 1982, when it was owned by D.Y. Imports, which was acquired a year ago by K.Y. Foods.
Named in Monday's complaint were K.Y. Foods Inc.'s general manager, Taek Kwan Oh of Monterey Park, and president Kyu Yong Kim of Alhambra.
Oh confirmed that his company has been investigated by the city attorney's office since December, but he declined to respond directly to the criminal complaint.
He and Kim are scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 22 in Los Angeles Municipal Court. Each is charged with 31 violations of the state Health and Safety Code. The maximum penalty for each of the counts is six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
K.Y. Foods also makes other Asian-style foods, such as kimchi, rice dumplings, vinegar, ground chili pepper, roasted sesame seeds and salted shrimp. These products, as well as its tofu, are sold to food stores, but not restaurants, mostly in the Los Angeles area, but also in San Francisco and in parts of Colorado and Nevada, according to Kwan and Oh.
In 1979, the plant pleaded no contest to five counts of health code violations and paid a $3,150 fine. And in 1982, it again pleaded no contest to another six violations and paid a $3,400 fine.
Similar conditions at the plant in 1985 prompted health investigators to issue a recall of tofu. It also led to the destruction of more than $30,000 worth of contaminated foods at the plant.
In the new case, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February recalled more than a ton of tofu after tests showed high levels of fecal coliform in assorted food samples.
As a result, K.Y. Food officials two weeks ago agreed to destroy 1,360 pounds of tofu and to discontinue all production until the problems were corrected.
Nevertheless, the criminal complaint was filed because, according to Kwan, "each time they make some improvements--but then they go back to the old ways." City Atty. James Hahn, in a statement, called those improvements "minimal, cosmetic."
Among the health and safety problems cited by federal and state officials were "evidence of widespread vermin infestation, including extensive rodent droppings, in areas of the factory where raw products were stored and foodstuffs were being manufactured." The inspectors also found beetles and moths in flour and sesame seeds as well as decaying mice in the warehouse.
Other contamination involved equipment used to process the foods, including rusty equipment that had chipping paint directly above the foods, according to Kwan. In addition, a floor drain was backed up in the tofu processing lines.
"If cooked properly, a lot of the bacteria can be killed," Kwan said, "but many people eat tofu uncooked."
The plant employs about 15 workers, according to Oh.