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Listeria Concerns Idle Portland-Area Seafood Plants
01/21/2011   Reported By: Tom Porter

The boss of a Portland-area seafood processing company hopes to have his operation "up-and-running" by the end of next week, once he can satisfy the Food and Drug Administration that certain food safety standards are being met.  Portland Shellfish Company has two processing plants, both of which are lying idle at the moment, after a federal judge on Thursday approved a consent decree to stop shipping ready-to-eat lobster, shrimp and crab products--this in light of tests last year uncovered a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

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Listeria Concerns Idle Portland-Area Seafood Plant
Originally Aired: 1/21/2011 5:30 PM

"In inspections that the FDA has done in the past, we've found the bacteria listeria in some of their finished product, and there are also conditions in their processing facilities that were conducive to this bateria," says FDA spokesman Doug Karas.

Officials at Portland Shellfish company, meanwhile, are keen to put this episode behind them and get back work. In this normally busy crab-meat processing facility in South Portland, only the buzz of the filters and air conditioners can now be heard.

Jeffrey Holden founded Portland Shellfish Company in the mid-1970s and says this is the first time it's had to stop operations due to food safety concerns. "We've been doing this for 35 years now and have had virtually no customer complaints over the 35 years we've been in business," Holden says.

There were complaints, though, from the Food and Drug Administration after listeria was found at the company's lobster and shrimp processing operation across the bay in Portland. This discovery was made last summer, says Holden, and since then, the company has taken a number of steps to come into compliance.

"In this plant we've put in new suspended ceiling, new roof, re-did the floors, repainted everything in the facility, we've put in new cleaning systems," he says. The FDA, Holden says, is currently reviewing the paperwork associated with these upgrades, and will then send in inspectors to take a look. 

With most of the company's 150-strong workforce laid off until the problem is resolved, Holden says it's essential to get FDA approval as soon as possible.

Tom Porter: "How long can you afford to sit idle like this?"

Jeffrey Holden: "It's not good for us, it's not good for our employees, it's not good for anybody."

And he says with this being the middle of the crab season, it's a particularly bad time of year to close down. "If we don't get the boats--if we don't start buying the crabs from the boats, the crabs will go elsewhere, the customers will go elsewhere, and so will the employees. We need to get up and running next week ideally, yeah," he says.

Despite the company's assurances that all is now well, the FDA's Doug Karas says Portland Shellfish has in the past been a repeat offender in this field. "They were not specifically following the food safety plan that they were required to have," he says. "There have been numerous FDA inspections at which we had identified problems and those problems had not been corrected."

In the past two years, he says, Portland Shellfish Company products have been recalled four times because of listeria-related concerns.


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