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FDA Asks Judge To Close Down Haifa Fish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Jamaica, New York office and Haifa Smoked Fish Inc. are within walking distance of one another, but proximity has not made it any easier for FDA to get the fish company to clean up its act.

FDA has been trying to get Haifa to make improvements since at least 2001, but the government’s last inspection of the fish company found everything from live maggots on the table in the eviscerating room to employees performing numerous duties without sanitizing or changing the gloves, from gutting raw fish to packing ready-to-eat sprats.

After Warning Letters in 2001 and 2004, and frequent inspections not resulting in corrections, FDA decided to go down to Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn for help from the U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

USDA Benton J. Campbell filed a complaint on behalf of FDA on Nov. 10th seeking a permanent injunction against Haifa and two of its top officers for violations of the Federal Food & Drug Act.  The action was announced Friday.

The complaint asks the court to shut Haifa down until it corrects unsanitary conditions at the Jamaica seafood processing facility and takes steps to control the pathogenic bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono.) at Haifa.

Listeria contamination has been a continuing problem for Haifa.  Most recently, it recalled all its cold smoked whitefish produced between Dec 7, 2008 and June 18, 2009.

“This company has consistently failed to make corrections to improve the insanitary conditions under which it processes smoked fish products, despite frequent warnings to do so,” said Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.  “The FDA will not tolerate food companies that fail to provide adequate safeguards to protect the public.”

Campbell, an interim appointee at USDA who is going on his third year on the job, said his office would continue to work with FDA “to ensure that companies that produce food under dangerous or insanitary conditions take corrective actions to clean up their act.”

Both FDA and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) have frequently inspected Haifa Smoke Fish Inc.  The inspections found conditions that could lead to contamination of its products with pathogenic microorganisms.

FDA analysis of samples taken during inspections found food products and environmental surfaces, including food handling surfaces, that were contaminated with Listeria.   Haifa failed to comply with FDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations, according to the government.

HACCP regulations require seafood processors identify all food safety hazards for each product, and develop and implement plans to prevent and control them.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has assigned the case to Judge Dora L. Irizarry, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.  She is the first Hispanic judge to serve on the district bench.

In addition to Haifa Smoked Fish Inc, the other officer defendants are Arcadi Marcovich and Israel Mirzakandov.   Neither could be reached for comment and there is yet no attorney for the fish processors listed on the court docket, nor has a court date been set.

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