Feds urge Monroe Company to stop selling unsafe seafood

MONROE — Federal officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to stop a Monroe seafood processor from selling tainted product in violation of federal law.

Felix Custom Smoking makes seafood products like dried and smoked salmon, according to court documents. Customers typically pick up their orders at the 147th Street SE store, as seafood is not sold online. Products were also shipped to buyers in Colorado and Idaho. Felix deals with Alaskan fish.

Most of the company‘s business would go to private companies who then distribute the products. Products are also sold at farmers’ markets, and fishermen have also used the business to process, package and label their catch.

Inspections revealed a history of seafood processing in unsanitary conditions with fly infestation, according to the civil complaint filed in federal court in Seattle Wednesday. In 2021, for example, federal inspectors took 104 samples from the surfaces of Felix Custom Smoking. Listeria mono was reportedly found in 19 of these samples. Two of them were on surfaces where the company processes ready-to-eat seafood. Five were on surfaces that food touches.

This harmful bacteria can cause diarrhea and vomiting in otherwise healthy people. More vulnerable consumers — such as pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems — could be at higher risk.

“The presence of such a strain is proof that a seafood processor failed to maintain a clean facility and created an ideal environment for dangerous pathogens to contaminate their seafood,” says the complaint.

A 2018 inspection also found food safety violations at the Monroe facility, according to court documents.

Company owner Diane Zollinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last August, a wholesale customer in Seattle conducted his own test of cold-smoked salmon purchased from Felix Custom Smoking, according to court documents. She confirmed the presence of the same strain of Listeria mono.

Shortly thereafter, the Federal Food and Drug Administration alerted consumers to the Monroe Company, saying “not to eat any of Félix’s products or products processed by Félix” and to throw them away due to possible contamination. He also told wholesalers to stop selling Felix seafood.

The FDA said it informed the company of its findings, but the owner “refused to initiate a recall of its products and continues to process seafood at this time.”

The federal government is now seeking an injunction requiring Zollinger to remove bacteria from its facility, improve sanitation procedures and comply with federal regulations before processing or distributing other seafood.

Rue Jake Goldstein: 425 339-3439; [email protected] Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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