Oregon’s Fish Market Receives FDA Warning Letter for Botulism Risk

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Newman’s Fish Markets Inc. was first opened in Eugene, Oregon in 1890 by John Henry Newman. Back then, food safety regulations were much different than they are today. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning letter to the company regarding practices at its seafood processing facility in Portland in order to prevent the formation of deadly botulism.

Concern About Vacuum-Packed and Smoked Fish Products Requires Greater Monitoring

Clostridium botulinum is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial illness. The bacteria grows on food and produces neurotoxins that, when ingested, can cause paralysis by inhibiting neurotransmitter function. Botulism poisoning most commonly comes from low-acid foods improperly canned at home, but another common source is fermented or smoked seafood.

Normal cooking processes (heating to at least 185 F for five minutes) will destroy the toxin. However, commercial heat pasteurizations, such as that in vacuum-packed foods or hot smoked products, may not be sufficient to kill all spores.

Read: Food borne Illness May Have Long Term Effect

During an inspection on July 29th, the FDA said that it watched Newman’s smoke a batch of fish which was later to be vacuum-packed and frozen to prevent Clostridium botulinum. The company managers stated that they would be placing stickers on the packages to urge consumers to keep the packages frozen and to thaw them under refrigeration right before use.

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The FDA states that it is concerned about vacuum-packaged fish, especially those that lack clear labeling, calling it a “likely hazard.” The agency also drew attention to the lack of monitoring procedures for minimum salt content and the ration of brine to fish.

Newman’s Fish Market received the warning on December 7th in which the company was asked to create Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans for their hot smoked, vacuum-packed, refrigerated salmon, sturgeon, escolar, tuna and black cod. The fish processor will have to conduct an analylsis of each kind of fish and fishery product that it produces to determine where the hazards are likely to occur and what the company will do, at a minimum, to prevent them from occurring.

Read: Senate Passes Bill to Strengthen Food Safety

The plan must address "any biological, chemical, or physical property that may cause the food to be unsafe for human consumption." For example, the HACCP plan should also identify hazards such as histamine formation that could occur during “brining.”

"Although the formation of Clostridium botulinum may not be a significant hazard for this product if it is labeled to be held frozen and thawed under refrigeration immediately before use, histamine formation is considered a food safety hazard that is reasonably likely to occur at the "brining" CCP, the warning letter said.

Newman's Fish Company has 15 working days to respond to the FDA’s concerns.

Consumers can prevent botulism by avoiding any canned or preserved food in which the container is bulging or if the food smells spoiled. For home canning, be sure to use proper techniques, such as pressure cooking at 250 F for at least 30 minutes to ensure that any botulism bacteria in the food are destroyed.

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