Each week as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes public a handful of warning letters recently sent to specific food processing companies, one category stands out: seafood processing.

This week is no exception.  Warning letters made public Tuesday went out Dec. 7 to Anchorage-based Copper River Seafoods Inc., on Dec. 9 to Nashville-based Choice Food Group Inc., and on Dec. 16 to Karisburger Foods Inc. in Monticello, MN.   

FDA said each of the three companies had been subjected to inspection and found to have serious violations of the various federal food safety regulations, including the seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), Current Good Manufacturing Practice, and Low Acid Canned Food (LACF) rules.

Failure to properly implement these federal rules and regulations meant Copper River’s smoked salmon, Choice Food’s tuna and salmon, and Karisburger’s shrimp, lobster, clam, crab and seafood soup bases all were deemed by FDA to be “adulterated.” 

That means they are unfit for human consumption, which might cause FDA to take further action, such as seizing products or enjoining the company from further operations.  

The onus is on the seafood processor to get into compliance quickly–FDA typically sets a deadline of about two weeks.

Copper River’s seafood processing facility at Cordova, AK was written up for failure to practice good sanitation conditions, improper canning of low-acid foods, and for not having an HACCP plan for smoked salmon strips.

FDA called attention to residual food and dirt on utensils, equipment and exposed surfaces in food preparation areas, peeling paint about product-handling areas and dripping condensation from overhead piping above product storage and processing.  

Also cited was improper chemical storage next to exposed product, specifically two bottles of chemicals marked “sanitizer” and “alcohol” hanging from a shelf directly above smoked salmon.  

Also, a container of chemical was stored on the same shelf as jar lids. 
 Incoming fish dropped on the bird-soiled receiving dock wooden floor were placed back into the production totes without sanitizing or discarding.  The de-watering box was in an open shed exposed to the elements and possible bird contamination.

FDA also told Copper River to file a thermal process for low-acid canned food before packing smoked salmon in foil pouches.  It is a regulatory step the FDA said they company should have taken in 2003 when it started packing salmon in foil.

FDA said Choice Food did not have a seafood HACCP plan to control food safety hazards, histamine formation, or pathogen growth for raw, refrigerated tuna (not vacuum packaged); vacuum packaged raw, refrigerated tuna; or raw, refrigerated intended for raw consumption by consumers. 

Because parasites are a food safety hazard associated with wild caught salmon and even aquaculture-raised salmon, FDA urged Choice Foods to check out the agency’s guidance on the issue.

There were also problems with sanitary conditions at Choice Food.  FDA noted the following:

— On Aug. 3, 2010, employees were observed in the cutting room processing salmon and halibut without wearing hair restraints or plastic sleeves and no chlorine was detected in the ice shovel sanitizing dip solution bucket at 3:30 pm.

— On Aug. 4, 2010, chlorine was detected at 50 parts per million (ppm)i n the ice shovel sanitizing dip solution bucket.

— On Aug. 3 and 4, 2010, the floor had large cracks near areas where water drained. These cracks held water and standing water was observed in the cracks after clean-up procedures were performed.  Peeling paint and rust were observed on the walls.  A leaking ceiling pipe dripped condensate onto a box containing scrap amberjack fish bones.  Management stated scrap fish bones are sometimes sold as stock to restaurants.

Finally, in addition to much detail on how it should monitor its processes, FDA said Choice Food also needed to have a seafood HACCP for each type of fish it receives and stores.

FDA told Karisburger Food that it was in violation of seafood HACCP regulations and some of its products were misbranded.  A seafood HACCP should deal with any biological, chemical or physical property that may cause a food to be unsafe for human consumption, FDA called out the company because its shellfish based soups could contain metal, and its plan did not address allergens.

Further, the Minnesota processor was lax in addressing thawing and cooling steps, FDA said.

The three seafood-processing companies were given 15 working days to respond to FDA’s concerns.