04/17/2012 09:17 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2012

Contaminated Fish In California? FDA Goes After Two Processors

This article comes to us courtesy of California Watch.

By Susanne Rust

Government health and food safety officials are seeking to close down two fish processing plants in California, citing concerns over the spread of bacteria and toxins in contaminated products.

So far, there have been no illnesses associated with the two plants. However, government inspectors detected the toxins that cause botulism and listeriosis on products tested at the plants.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking to close down the Fujino Enterprises-owned Blue Ocean Smokehouse in Half Moon Bay and has temporarily halted operations and distribution out of the Yamaya processing plant in Torrance.

A Yamaya spokesman said the company had no comment, and a call to Blue Ocean Smokehouse was not returned.

According to the FDA, Yamaya has agreed to the agency's request to stop manufacturing and distributing fish products until it corrects conditions at its processing plant.

The concern at the Torrance-based plant is Listeria monocytogenes, which causes listeriosis. That disease, while harmless to most people, poses a serious threat to pregnant women, newborns and people with compromised immune systems.

According to an April 11 consent decree, the company also has promised to destroy all products currently at the plant.

In the case of the Half Moon Bay processing plant, the government is seeking to shut down the plant entirely. Blue Ocean Smokehouse processes fresh and smoked fish, including salmon, cod, halibut, tuna, sturgeon and hot-smoked cream cheese spreads.

"The company has ignored warnings by the FDA and the California Department of Public Health by continuing to sell seafood that puts consumers' health at risk," said Dara Corrigan, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

An FDA inspection in October found poor employee sanitation practices and showed the company's facility was not maintained in a manner that protected against food contamination.

Of particular concern to the agency is the smokehouse's vacuum-packed hot and cold smoked fish products. Inspectors claim the products pose a risk for the development of the Clostridium botulinum toxin, which can cause botulism.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness that may result in paralysis, respiratory problems or death.

Susanne Rust is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.