The 97-year-old Empire Fish Company got its start selling fish from the Great Lakes to Milwaukee area restaurants.

Today it processes vacuum-packed cold-smoked salmon, bonito, mahi-mahi, tuna, wahoo, mackerel, jobfish, jack or crevalle, trevally, escolar, clams, cockles, mussels, oysters, scallops, and air-packed, and hot-smoked salmon for both wholesale and retail markets.

And all those fish or fishery products “are adulterated in that they have been prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health,” says W. Charles Becoat, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Minneapolis District Director.

Becoat’s comments are found in a Jan. 25 “Warning Letter” to Wauwatosa, WI-based Meyer Food Services LLC, which has owned Empire Fish Company since 1994. FDA released the letter on Feb. 9.

During an Oct. 1-7, 2009 inspection of the seafood processing facility in Wauwatosa, FDA found significant violations of food safety laws and regulations, including the seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) requirements.

FDA found Empire Fish Co. lacks a HACCP plan for its vacuum-packed cold-smoked salmon “to control the food safety hazards of Clostridium botulinum growth and toxin formation.”

Empire’s HACCP plans for clams, cockles, mussels, oysters and scallops do not provide sufficient monitoring of temperatures during refrigeration to adequately control pathogen growth.

FDA recommends monitoring equipment temperatures with equipment that provide 24/7 coverage and recording. 

Empire has a similar problem with its HACCP plan for its air-packed, hot-smoked fish.

Empire Fish Company has 15 working days to respond to FDA’s “Warning Letter.” Its response must provide specifics on how it plans to correct the violations.

Empire today is Milwaukee’s largest distributor of fresh and frozen seafood.  It serves hotels, restaurants, grocers, and consumers “with the highest quality seafood, meats, and food service items available,” according to its website.