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United States Files Enforcement Action Against California Company and Company’s Owner to Prevent Distribution of Adulterated Seafood Products

The United States filed a civil complaint against Michel Cordon Bleu Inc. of Los Angeles, California, and its owner and President Michel G. Blanchet to prevent the distribution of adulterated seafood products in violation of federal law, the Department of Justice announced earlier this week.

Michel Cordon Bleu Inc. (Michel Cordon Bleu) prepares, processes, packs, holds, and distributes vacuum-packed, ready-to-eat cold and hot smoked fish and fishery products. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that Michel Cordon Bleu and Michel G. Blanchet adulterated seafood products by preparing, packing, or holding them under insanitary conditions whereby the seafood may have become contaminated with filth or may have been rendered injurious to health.

The Department filed the complaint at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that seafood processors comply with laws designed to protect consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work aggressively with the FDA to ensure that consumers are protected from potentially unsafe food.”

According to the complaint, FDA inspected Michel Cordon Bleu’s facility on numerous occasions, including two times in 2016. The complaint alleges that defendants failed to comply with the seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations by, among other deficiencies, failing to adequately control the risk of Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) and Clostridium botulinum (C bot.) toxin formation in their vacuum-packed fish or fishery products.

The seafood HACCP regulations require every fish and fishery product processor to conduct, or have conducted for it, a hazard analysis to determine whether there are food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur during the processing of each kind of fish or fishery product that it processes.

According to the complaint, FDA’s analysis of environmental samples collected during its January-February 2016 inspection revealed the presence of L. mono contamination in multiple locations throughout the Michel Cordon Bleu facility. The complaint also alleges that FDA’s analysis of environmental samples collected during its subsequent inspection in July-August 2016 also revealed the presence of L. mono contamination in multiple locations throughout the company’s facility.

According to the complaint, FDA noted deficiencies at each of its two 2016 inspections at the Michel Cordon Bleu facility. As alleged in the complaint, FDA noted that defendants failed to manufacture, package and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination; failed to monitor sanitation conditions and practices with sufficient frequency to assure conformance with current good manufacturing practices; and failed to take corrective action that ensured affected product was not entered into commerce and the cause of the deviation was corrected.

“When we find contaminants that can harm public health at a food manufacturing facility, we must take action to protect consumers,” said FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, Melinda K. Plaisier. “When necessary, we will seek legal action to ensure that manufacturers take steps to comply with food safety laws and regulations.”

The government is represented by Trial Attorney Monica Groat of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the Associate Chief Counsel for Enforcement Roselle Oberstein of the FDA, Office of General Counsel, Department of Health and Human Services.

A complaint is merely a set of allegations that, if the case were to proceed to trial, the government would need to prove by a preponderance of the evidence.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca.