Washington Seafood Processor Accused by DOJ of Distributing Bad Products

The United States Department of Justice in March filed a complaint to stop a seafood processor in Monroe, Washington, from what the DOJ said is the processing and selling “adulterated” seafood products.

In a civil complaint for permanent injunction filed at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the DOJ alleges that Diane Zollinger, through her business, Felix Custom Smoking, violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by distributing impure ready-to-eat seafood products, including fish jerky and cold- and hot-smoked salmon. According to the complaint, Zollinger sells products directly to consumers from her business and at farmers’ markets. She also provides custom processing for commercial fisherman and other wholesalers.

The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that FDA inspectors visited Zollinger’s facility in 2021 and found a significant infestation of flies and other filthy conditions that can create an ideal environment for the growth of harmful bacteria.

Food contaminated with such bacteria can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting in healthy adults. For vulnerable consumers — including pregnant women, the elderly and the immune-compromised, the bacteria can cause more serious effects, such as stillbirths, miscarriages and death, according to the DOJ.

The complaint further alleges that FDA inspectors took multiple samples at Zollinger’s facility and confirmed the presence of bacteria in and around food preparation areas. According to the complaint, genetic testing showed that the strain of bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, or L. mono, had been present in the facility since at least 2018, and a sample of seafood from one of Zollinger’s customers also showed the same strain of L. mono.

FDA issued a public health alert warning against purchasing or eating Felix Custom Smoking seafood, and now the DOJ is seeking an injunction that would require Zollinger to eliminate L. mono at her facility, make sanitation improvements and comply with federal food safety regulations before processing or distributing any more seafood.

“The Western District of Washington has seen all too vividly what happens when adulterated food makes it into our food supply,” said Nick Brown, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. “Whether it is E.coli in ground beef or orange juice or, as alleged in this case, dangerous bacteria in smoked salmon, we count on the FDA’s inspectors to keep us and our families safe.”