US marshals raid filthy food plant in wake of FDA clampdown pledge

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Food processing Food and drug administration

US marshals have raided a rodent-infested food processing plant in Louisiana and seized goods worth $72,000 – just 24 hours after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vowed to get tough on companies that flout safety laws.

The Food and Drug Administration ordered the marshals to confiscate an assortment of food products from Bearden Sandwich Company Inc., trading as Southern Belle Sandwich Company, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Health hazard

Food products, including tuna salad sandwiches, were impounded Friday after being “prepared, packed, and held under unsanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to the public’s health”,​ said a FDA statement. The tuna fish salad sandwiches were also found to have been processed under conditions that breached Seafood Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations.

The action came after a recent probe found evidence of “widespread and active rodent and insect infestation, filthy conditions, and poor employee practices, such as allowing food-processing utensils to lie on the floor near live insects”,​ said the agency.

“When FDA investigators find violations inside a company’s facility, we will do what is necessary to keep insanitary and potentially harmful products out of consumers’ hands,”​ said Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “Companies that are not complying with our laws will be subject to enforcement actions.”

The company distributes products to convenience and retail stores in southern Louisiana, as well as parts of Florida and Alabama.

FDA promises crackdown

News of the raid was released just a day after FDA chief Dr Margaret Hamburg pledged to act “swiftly and aggressively​” against food processors and manufacturers that defy safety rules.

Speaking on Thursday, Hamburg said the agency, which she joined as Commissioner two months ago, would be swifter in warning companies about safety violations. She added that where there were perceived risks to public health, the FDA would consider “immediate action - even before we have issued a formal warning letter”.

“The FDA must show industry and consumers that we are on the job,”​ she said. “We must publicise our enforcement actions – and the rationale for those actions – widely and effectively. This will increase public confidence, encourage compliance, and educate patients and consumers about potential risks. Companies must have a realistic expectation that if they are crossing the line, they will be caught, and if they fail to act, we will.”

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