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African Wholesale Food Supply shuts down over Botulism Risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, is seeking a permanent injunction against BCS African Wholesale Food Supply LLC (BCS African Wholesale) of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and its principal officers. If granted, the injunction would force the defendants to stop importing, processing, and selling seafood products that can put consumers at risk for botulism or that may present other food safety hazards.

The defendants receive their seafood products from outside Minnesota, including tilapia directly imported from China, bony fish shipped to defendants from New York and originating in the Ivory Coast, and croaker shipped to defendants from New Jersey and Florida and originating in Brazil, Uruguay, Guyana, and Argentina. The defendants sell their seafood products to consumers from their retail store, and process and distribute other seafood products wholesale.

“This company has ignored warnings by FDA and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by continuing to sell seafood that puts the consumer’s health at risk,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “By taking this action, a result of collaborative enforcement efforts with our state partner, FDA is demonstrating its commitment to protecting the public health from the dangers of adulterated and misbranded food products.”

The complaint alleges that the company and its officers, Stanley Jide, Adebayo Mafe, and Charles Chiefredo, market and distribute seafood products that are prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The FDA considers uneviscerated fish over 5 inches in length that are salt-cured, dried, or smoked, such as the bony fish sold by BCS African Wholesale, to be adulterated because they could contain Clostridium botulinum toxin. The toxin can cause botulism, a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. The toxin cannot be removed by cooking or freezing. Smaller uneviscerated fish (those 5 or fewer inches long) can be salt-cured, dried, or smoked in a manner that prevents the toxin formation.

FDA says that BCS African Wholesale’s bony fish, which are falsely labeled “Gutted Bony Fish,” are also misbranded under the Act. FDA says the defendants’ fish are also adulterated because the firm failed to comply with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations. HACCP is a science-based system of preventive controls for food safety that commercial seafood processors develop to identify potential food safety hazards and steps to keep them from occurring. The FDA Seafood HACCP program was designed to increase the margin of safety for U.S. consumers and to reduce illnesses to the lowest possible levels.

The FDA sent BCS African Wholesale a warning letter on July 20, 2010, after FDA and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture inspected the company’s facility. In response to the warning letter, the defendants assured FDA that they were no longer selling uneviscerated fish. FDA and MDA jointly inspected the facility two months later and found that the defendants were still selling adulterated seafood, including uneviscerated bony fish that were also misbranded. After both inspections, MDA embargoed the potentially dangerous fish at BCS African Wholesale to prevent their distribution to the public.

The complaint was filed on May 31, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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