The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday, claims that a Minnesota seafood importer’s products put its customers at risk for botulism and other food-safety hazards.

FDA said it is seeking a permanent injunction against BCS African Wholesale Food Supply LLC (BCS African Wholesale) of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and its principal officers.

If granted, the injunction would force the defendants to stop importing, processing, and selling seafood products.

According to the FDA, the defendants receive their seafood products from outside Minnesota, including tilapia imported from China, bony fish shipped from New York and originating in the Ivory Coast, and croaker shipped from New Jersey and Florida and originating in Brazil, Uruguay, Guyana and Argentina.

The company sells seafood products from a retail store, and also processes and distributes other seafood products wholesale.

“This company has ignored warnings by FDA and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by continuing to sell seafood that puts the consumer’s health at risk,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in a news release. “By taking this action, a result of collaborative enforcement efforts with our state partner, FDA is demonstrating its commitment to protecting the public health from the dangers of adulterated and misbranded food products.”

The complaint alleges that the company and its officers, Stanley Jide, Adebayo Mafe, and Charles Chiefredo, market and distribute seafood products that are prepared, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions in violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

At issue is uneviscerated salt-cured, dried, or smoked fish over 5 inches that FDA says is considered to be adulterated because it could contain Clostridium botulinum toxin — the toxin that can cause botulism and cannot be removed by cooking or freezing. Only smaller uneviscerated fish (5 or less inches) are allowed to be salt-cured, dried, or smoked.  

FDA also alleges that BCS African Wholesale’s bony fish are falsely labeled “Gutted Bony Fish,” and therefore misbranded under the act.

In addition, the complaint charges that the firm has failed to comply with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations, the science-based system of preventive controls for food safety that commercial seafood processors develop to identify potential food safety hazards and steps to keep them from occurring.

FDA said it sent BCS African Wholesale a warning letter on July 20, 2010, after the federal agency and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) inspected the company’s facility.

In response to the warning letter, the company owners assured FDA that they were no longer selling uneviscerated fish, the agency said. However, FDA says it jointly inspected the facility with the MDA two months later, and found that the defendants were still selling adulterated seafood, including misbranded, uneviscerated bony fish.

After both inspections, MDA embargoed the fish at BCS African Wholesale to prevent its distribution to the public.