The FDA has announced the recall of Haifa Smoked Fish brand vacuum packaged Whole Schmaltz Herring with the lot number 20, because the product was found to be uneviscerated.  The risk to consumers is that, due to the errors in production, the fish may be contaminated with clostridium botulinum.

The lot being recalled is a product of Norway, individually vacuum-packed in clear plastic pouches with lot # 20 indicated on the label and distributed through various food retailers in the NY and NJ area. 

The Whole Schmaltz Herring was sampled by a New York State Agriculture and Markets Food Inspector during a routine inspection. Subsequent analysis of the product by New York State Food Laboratory personnel confirmed that Whole Schmaltz Herring was not properly eviscerated prior to processing. 

The sale of uneviscerated fish is prohibited under New York State Agriculture and Markets regulations because of Clostridium Botulinum spores are more likely to be concentrated in the viscera than any other portion of the fish. Uneviscerated fish has been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning. 

Botulism is a serious and potentially fatal form of food poisoning, causes the following symptoms: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation may also be common symptoms. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention. 

Haifa Smoked Fish, Inc’s troubled past

On November 13, 2009, The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, filed a complaint for permanent injunction against seafood processor Haifa Smoked Fish Inc. of Jamaica, N.Y., and two of its top officers for violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The injunction was sought to prevent the company from further manufacture, distribution, and sale of its products. “This company has consistently failed to make corrections to improve the insanitary conditions under which it processes smoked fish products, despite frequent warnings to do so,” said Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “The FDA will not tolerate food companies that fail to provide adequate safeguards to protect the public.”

The company processes and distributes brined, cold-smoked, and hot-smoked fish and fishery products. The violations documented by the FDA pose a public health hazard because, without adequate controls, products made by Haifa Smoked Fish could become contaminated with (L. mono) or other pathogens and could cause serious illnesses.

“The public must be able to trust that the food in their grocery stores is safe for them to eat,” said Benton J. Campbell, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “We will continue to work with the FDA to ensure that companies that produce food under dangerous or insanitary conditions take corrective action to clean up their act.”

Since 2001, the FDA and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) have inspected the Haifa Smoked Fish facility on numerous occasions. The inspections revealed insanitary conditions that could lead to the contamination of the finished product with L. monoor other pathogenic microorganisms. The act refers to unsanitary conditions as insanitary.

FDA analyses of samples taken during the inspections revealed that food products and environmental surfaces, including food-contact surfaces, were contaminated with L. mono. The company also continually failed to comply with FDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations. HAACP regulations require that seafood processors identify all food safety hazards likely to occur for each kind of seafood product, and develop and implement adequate plans to prevent and control those hazards.

The FDA issued warning letters to Haifa Smoked Fish in 2001 and 2004. In response, company officers promised to correct the violations. Subsequent inspections, however, revealed that the company did not make the corrections.