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Federal court shuts down fish processor after years of problems

Thirteen years after Michel G. Blanchet promised to follow food safety laws, The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has enjoined the Los Angeles man from preparing, processing, and distributing adulterated fish or fishery products without first taking required remedial action.

The Department of Justice(DOJ) said the injunction order requires Blanchet to implement various consumer safety measures before resuming the preparation, processing or distribution of fish or fishery products.  The injunction stems from a complaint DOJ filed on Oct. 3, 2017, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA has tried for several years to bring the company into compliance with inspections, regulatory meetings, and warning letters without success. At a 2005 regulatory meeting, the company said it was committed to building a “culture of compliance,” promising to adhere to a HACCP plan. It’s not, however, lived up to that promise.

The original complaint also named the company Michel Cordon Bleu, a California corporation, along with Blanchet as defendants. With the agreement of all the parties, federal Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed the corporation from the action on May 18 in conjunction with settlement talks that were underway.

Blanchet was the owner and president of Michel Cordon Bleu that processed and distributed fish or fishery products, including salmon, trout, and sturgeon. According to the complaint, Cordon Bleu received raw fish for manufacturing ready-to-eat, smoked fish or fishery products from outside of California, including salmon from Florida and trout from Idaho. About 70 percent of Michel Cordon Bleu’s products were sold to distributors, 25 percent to restaurants, hotels, and retailers, and 5 percent went to cruise ship lines in Orlando and Las Vegas. Michel Cordon Bleu shipped about 30 percent of its products in interstate commerce. 

Blanchet agreed to settle the litigation and be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction. As part of the settlement, Blanchet represented that he is not engaged in receiving, preparing, processing, holding or distributing fish or fishery products. Under the permanent injunction, if Blanchet intends to resume such activity, he must notify FDA in writing in advance, comply with specific remedial measures set forth in the injunction, and allow his facility to be subject to FDA inspection.

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that processors and distributors of seafood products comply with laws designed to protect consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice continues to work with the FDA to ensure that consumers are protected from potentially unsafe food.”

According to the complaint, FDA inspected Blanchet’s business on numerous occasions, including two times in 2016. The complaint alleged that Blanchet failed to comply with federal regulations by failing to adequately control the risk of Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) and Clostridium botulinum (C bot.) toxin formation in vacuum-packed fish or fishery products.

The regulations require every fish and fishery product processor to conduct or have conducted for it, a hazard analysis to determine whether there are food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur during the processing of each kind of fish or fishery product that it processes.

According to the complaint, FDA’s analysis of environmental samples collected during its January-February 2016 inspection revealed the presence of L. mono contamination in multiple locations throughout Blanchet’s business.

The complaint also alleged that FDA’s analysis of environmental samples collected during its subsequent inspection in July-August 2016 also revealed the presence of L. mono contamination in multiple locations throughout the business.

Trial Attorney Monica Groat of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch represented the government in the matter, with the assistance of Associate General Counsel for Enforcement Roselle Oberstein of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of General Counsel’s Food and Drug Division. The defendants were represented by Los Angeles attorney Bruce J Guttman.

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