Quinault Tribal Enterprises (QTE) last April recalled 27,705 metal cans of seafood products, distributed nationally, because federal food-safety authorities said the cans were not adequately processed.
The voluntary recall of both smoked and non-smoked salmon, tuna, sturgeon, razor clams, minced razor clams, and steelhead were packed in 5- to 7-ounce metal cans under the Quinault Pride or QTE brands at the tribe’s seafood processing and canning facility in Taholah, WA.
Owned by the Quinault Indian Nation, the QTE manufacturing facility was inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last April 28 to May 12. The QTE recall came on the second day of the inspection.
More has come to light since the recall. For example, the number of recalled cans was not known until the figure was included in a June 29 FDA enforcement report. That report also disclosed, “not adequately processed” meant that FDA inspectors had discovered “severe looseness of the can double seam.”
Perhaps due to the success of the recall, no illnesses have been associated with this canned seafood. The inspection and prompt voluntary recall, once the problem was discovered, may well have headed off the possibility of an outbreak of deadly botulism.
In a Nov. 23 warning letter from Charles M. Breen, FDA’s Seattle district director, to Fawn R. Sharp, tribal president and chief executive officer of the seafood company, the federal agency makes it clear the incident was a close call in avoiding a problem that “could potentially cause illness or even fatal food poisoning.”
Breen credits the tribe for the recall, but says it was an “oversight by QTE for not reporting the can seam defects to FDA.”
The FDA warning letter says its Pacific Regional Laboratory Northwest and the Arkansas Regional Laboratory both found inadequate hermetic seals and the presence of Gram-positive and Gram-negative aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms in samples of cans they were asked to analyze.
In the 7-page warning letter, FDA says QTE failed to mark each hermetically sealed container of low-acid food with an identifying code permanently visible; failed to measure and record fill-in weights; and failed to record process deviations and the corrective actions taken.
While much of the letter addresses those technical issues, the Quinault Indian Nation was also taken to task for sanitary issues. Rodent excreta were found in numerous locations, including in the fish processing room, the storage area for package material and the clam processing area. Bird feathers and bird droppings were also found in processing and packing areas on both the first and second floors.
FDA cited nine different areas where screening or other protection was needed to keep pests out. Inspectors also found outside areas around the facility could harbor pests because of the litter, waste and uncut foliage.
There was a similar problem with unused equipment inside the building.
Throughout the letter, Breen acknowledged the tribe has responded to FDA about the concerns, but in most instances he says those responses lacked specific detail to satisfy FDA.
Food Safety News asked the tribal president for comment on the FDA’s concerns, but she has not responded to the inquiry. Sharp was one of 12 tribal leaders who met with President Obama in the White House on Dec. 2 at the end of a weeklong event with the nation’s Indian tribes.
In 2010, federal inspectors found similar sanitation problems in a warehouse the Quinault nation uses for its tribal food bank.