The FDA has suspended the food facility registration of SM Fish Corporation of Far Rockaway, New York after finding Listeria monocytogenes at that location during three different inspections. In addition, whole genome sequencing (WGS) matched one of the strains found at SM Fish to isolates from four people sickened with listeriosis.
Anyone with un-expired ready to eat food manufactured by SM Fish should not eat those products. This is an expansion of the July 29, 2016 recall of Ossie’s Herring Salads to include all RTE foods from that facility. Ossie’s ready to eat seafood salads were also recalled on September for possible Listeria contamination.
Listeria was first fond in the facility in 2015 and found Listeria bacteria in 15 of 105 locations swabbed throughout the building. An inspection on June 14, 2016 to July 6, 2016 found Listeria monocytogenes in the facility in 29 of 105 environmental samples. The company briefly closed to revise its cleaning and sanitation procedures.
Then, the facility was re-inspected and re-sampled from August 15, 2016 to September 9, 2016 and discovered that the cleaning and sanitation procedures were unsuccessful. Listeria was found in 12 of the 116 locations swabbed in the facility, including one on a direct food contact surface. The pathogenic bacteria was also found on non-contact food surfaces that are in “sufficient proximity” to the food and food contact surfaces to create an increased risk of contaminating the food.
Listeria bacteria was found in the kitchen, fish processing room, herring room, cheese slicing room, and the ice maker/machine area. One positive swab was found on the inner surface of a mixing bowl that comes into contact with food.
Whole genome sequencing matched the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria genetically to samples collected during both the 2015 and the June/July 2016 inspections. That means at least three strains of Listeria bacteria have been consistently present in this facility for two years.
One of the strains of Listeria monocytogenes found at the facility is a “genetic match for the pathogen found in four listeriosis clinical illness.” that means that “the strain of L. monocytogenes found in your facility is capable of causing life-threatening, invasive listeriosis,” according to the letter. There is no word on where those sick persons live, if they have been hospitalized, or their ages.
Listeria monocytogenes is very difficult to eradicate once it has made a foothold in a facility, especially in a wet processing environment with a high amount of manual packing. Cross contamiantion and transmission of the pathogen to the finished product is very common in those situations. And there is zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes in ready to eat foods.
Inspectors also found “serious violations of the current Good Manufacturing Practices requirements for food that cause your RTE seafood products to be adulterated.” A kill step is not performed on these seafood products before they are distributed, so there is a “reasonable probability of such food causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans,” according to the FDA.
Inspectors found employees used spray nozzles and squeegees to clean equipment and the floors. These cleaning techniques can cause the movement of Listeria throughout a facility. Aerosols from a high pressure hose used on floors or dirty equipment can linger in the air for hours and can re-contaminate previously sanitized food contact surfaces. And dead flies were found in liquid on the floor, flying insects were found in the cutting board and knife in the Prepared Food Kitchen area, and condensate from an air conditioning unit was leaking onto food preparation surfaces.
The symptoms of Listeria monocytogenes include high fever, severe headache, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, stiff neck, and vomiting. Anyone who has eaten any Ossie’s ready to eat seafood or egg salads and has experienced these symptoms should see a doctor. Listeriosis can be deadly. Pregnant women, especially, are vulnerable to serious complications from this illness. These women may only have a mild flu-like illness, but listeriosis can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.