A canned seafood recall stemming from inadequate processing records at an Oregon cannery has resulted in 16 secondary recalls to date but no illnesses, and the family-owned business is working to get back in compliance so it can restart operations before the end of the year. Skipanon Brand Seafoods LLC of Warrenton, OR, was issued a cease-and-desist order on Sept. 25, 2015, by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the department ordered a product embargo on Sept. 28, according to John Burr, an ODA food safety program manager in Salem, OR. The regulatory actions were prompted by a cannery visit from ODA and inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the resulting recalls were due to potential contamination of the canned seafood products with Clostridium botulinum, whose toxin can cause foodborne botulism. “FDA did the original inspections, and they were the ones who discovered the lack of documentation. I’ve not heard that they’ve actually found botulism anywhere. That doesn’t minimize the seriousness of this because there is still a danger,” said Bruce Pokarney, ODA’s director of communications. Burr, who said he was recently down at the Skipanon cannery, had a similar view. “No botulism has been detected at all. No spores were detected, no toxin detected. If that were the case, I think the investigation would have been very different,” he said, adding, “Low-acid canning is probably the most regulated industry and for very good reason.” A spokeswoman for FDA’s San Francisco office would only confirm that the federal agency was involved and that the investigation is ongoing. “We haven’t come to any conclusions yet,” she told Food Safety News. “What is known is in the firm’s press release. We haven’t written the inspection report yet.” Mark Kujala, Skipanon’s managing member, described the situation this way: “There were some concerns about the process records that we had. Some, I guess, lack of documentation. When we started the recall effort, that was what they termed it as,” he said. “There were some issues updating our HACCP plans,” Kujala continued. “We had a process authority come down and review our process, and some of those things are being incorporated into our new process. We’ve had to file everything with the FDA.” Recall ripple effect On Oct. 9, 2015, Skipanon recalled all lots and all sizes of its own brand of canned seafood products (tuna, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon) because of the potential botulism risk. Subsequent secondary recalls of canned seafood products processed by Skipanon but bearing other brand labels include: Dungeness Seaworks, Sequim, WA; Brigham Fish Market, Cascade Locks, OR; Northwest Wild Products, Astoria, OR; Bornstein Seafood Inc. (including Krooke’s, Logger’s Choice, and Sharyn’s brands), Astoria, OR; The Spot, Garibaldi, OR; Pacific Oyster Co. (Pacific Seafood brand), dba The Fish Peddler, Bay City, OR; Garibaldi Cannery LLC, Garibaldi, OR, Ecola Seafoods Inc., Cannon Beach, OR; Vis Seafoods Inc., Bellingham, WA; Josephson’s Smokehouse of Astoria, OR; Gilmore Fish Smokehouse of Dallesport, WA; CSFPDX LLC of Garibaldi, OR; OleBob’s Seafoods of Ilwaco, WA; Sockeye Suzy’s Fish Co. of White Swan, WA, Farmer Creek of Cloverdale, OR, and Old Oregon Smokehouse of Rockaway, OR. Kujala explained that these are companies for which Skipanon does “co-packing,” meaning that these other firms bring the fish in and his company provides the canning services. “We want to work with them so we can minimize the impact on their businesses,” he said, adding, “Certainly this is hard on us, but I definitely feel extremely terrible for the people that we’ve done work for who have been trying to do their own recalls.” He said Skipanon has made some operational changes and is working toward reopening the cannery before the end of this year. “There were some things that we needed to correct, and we are doing that, and we are hoping to do processing again soon,” Kujala said. Low-acid canning regulations The Oregon agriculture department’s food safety program does not commonly take such strong enforcement actions regarding the businesses it regulates, Burr said. He noted that ODA’s focus is on training issues, record-keeping and floor operations to keep food purveyors and processors in compliance with state requirements. “They do have a HACCP plan,” he said of Skipanon. “HACCP is one facet of the seafood processing industry. If they’re doing wholesale seafood products, however, a lot of the controls fall under the low-acid canning regulations.” Burr said that in the low-acid canning world and in some other types of industry, a processing authority helps provide the scientific basis for time, temperature, pressure and other considerations important in safe canning procedures. The processing authority might be an organization, an academic person, someone with industry experience, a researcher, or maybe an equipment manufacturer, he said. “From when I went out there, they had already made great strides in correcting issues. And we instructed them to work with our process authority on issues such as filing all of their processes with the Food and Drug Administration,” Burr said. “We’ve asked them to update their seafood HACCP plan. We’ve talked to them about record-keeping requirements. We might have even encouraged them to consider taking some continuing education type stuff. We’ve asked them to track all the critical components, and we also asked them to validate the equipment and the processes — the adequacy of all the processing equipment and the entire process,” he added. Skipanon may not legally process any seafood products again until the cannery operation is in full compliance with state regulations, Burr noted. “FDA gets a lot of their jurisdiction through interstate commerce, and it is very possible that [Skipanon] may be shipping in-state for a while,” he said. “They could ship in-state if they get an OK from us, but until the FDA inspection is done, they probably won’t be shipping interstate.” State agriculture officials, along with those from FDA, are continuing to work with the cannery to make sure they know what is needed before getting a green light to restart operations. “This is not a chess game, and there has got to be full openness here,” Burr said. “They know what they need to do, and I think there is a clear understanding what that expectation is. I think they have considered the benefits of everything we’ve told them.” Kujala said that the plan now is for Skipanon to be in a position to reopen in the very near future. “We’re hopeful, yes,” he told Food Safety News. “This is a huge impact to us, and we’re just taking it day by day and trying to work with the Oregon Department of Ag and FDA to move forward on this.” What is botulism? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by eating foods containing a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. While botulism can be fatal, CDC states that, in the past 50 years, the proportion of people who die from it has fallen from 50 percent to about 3-5 percent today. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days, CDC states. “Many cases of botulism are preventable. Foodborne botulism has often been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn and is caused by failure to follow proper canning methods,” CDC adds.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)