Owners of a Michigan food company have agreed that they will not reopen their business, Saranac Brand Foods Inc., which had repeatedly been found to be contaminated with potentially deadly Listeria.

Federal Judge Paul L. Maloney approved a consent decree between the U.S. government and Saranac Brand Foods’ owners Dennis M. Nowak and Daniel R. Nowak. The Nov. 30 document states the two Nowaks are dissolving the business and selling assets to pay debts. They say they ceased operations in August.

Court documents show the business was opened in 1971. Its operations  involved the preparation, processing, packing, holding, and distribution of 35 different ready-to-eat foods, including prepared salads, dips, and sauces such as coleslaw, macaroni salad, spinach dip, and enchilada sauce.

“During the past six years, interactions between Defendants and both FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) demonstrate a pattern of non-compliance at Defendants’ facility and their failure to follow through on corrections,” according to the federal government’s complaint.

The FDA most recently inspected Saranac operation between Oct. 23 and Nov. 29, 2017. At that time there were still problems with floors in disrepair that had been cited by FDA in 2012, even though the owners had told state and federal officials the repairs were a top priority. 

Listeria monocytogenes was found by inspectors “in various parts of the floor in the food-processing area and the center floor drain, including the plastic grates covering the center floor drain and the damaged floor around the center floor drain,” according to court documents.

“At the close of the February 2012 Inspection, the FDA investigators issued a two-item Form FDA-483 to defendant Dennis Nowak and discussed each of the observations with him. In addition, during a close-out meeting, the FDA investigators discussed the condition of defendants’ facility’s floors with defendants Dennis and Daniel Nowak, who stated that new flooring was a ‘top priority’ repair for the facility and that they expected to install new flooring by September 2012.

“On March 5, 2012, defendants responded in writing to the February 2012 Form FDA-483 by providing a floor repair estimate from 2009 with marginalia stating, ‘Will be done when we can afford it.’ ”

In addition to the damaged and contaminated floors and drains, state and federal inspectors have, in the past six years, repeatedly documented improper and inadequate cleaning. 

Employees were observed spraying out a center drain where L. monocytogenes was detected and aerosolizing substances in the trench. They used a pressurized hose to spray off a soiled food cart, causing spray to be deflected onto an uncovered food cart containing coleslaw. Also, employees exited and re-entered the food-processing area without washing their hands and then handling food and food-contact equipment. One employee was seen touching the processing room floor — which was contaminated with L. monocytogenes — and then touching food product without washing his hands.

Dennis and Daniel Nowak agreed to close their food business because of the problems cited by government inspectors, but maintain their food was safe.

“We have always placed great importance on producing high-quality food and on food safety. We are well aware of the Complaint and Consent Decree that was recently filed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” the Nowak’s said in a statement issued by their attorney. 

“We agreed to enter the Consent Decree to resolve outstanding compliance issues raised by the FDA rather than in response to any known health concerns. Saranac Brand Foods is not aware of any foodborne illnesses and/or other health issues caused by any food products manufactured by the Company. Saranac Brand Foods ceased production of any and all food products over three months ago.”

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