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Listeria Contamination Prompts Shutdown of Santa Barbara Smokehouse

Bacteria found in cold-smoked salmon; company implements voluntary recall, plans facility upgrade

The discovery of a small amount of bacterial contamination at the Santa Barbara Smokehouse facility in Santa Barbara has prompted a voluntary recall of cold-smoked salmon products and immediate plans to modify the company's 10-year-old processing plant.

“I made the decision Dec. 25 to cease production, refurbish my factory, and redesign it because food safety to me is No. 1,” said Tim Brown, chief executive officer. “To me, this is the right thing to do.”

On Friday, state public health officials issued warnings to avoid eating certain Santa Barbara Smokehouse cold-smoked salmon products that may be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes bacteria, according to Dr. Ron Chapman, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) director and state health officer.

The bacteria can cause listeriosis, a type of food poisoning.

California officials plus the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are investigating the Santa Barbara-based business after contamination was found in the processing facility, the agency announced Friday.

Health officials said Santa Barbara Smokehouse initiated a voluntary recall of two batches of cold-smoked salmon manufactured in August and September 2014, and all cold-smoked salmon packed between Dec. 17 and 24.

The company implemented the voluntary recall after learning about the listeria monocytogenes contamination in product-surveillance samples and environmental samples collected at the processing facility at 312 N. Nopal St. 

No illnesses have been associated with the recalled products at this time.

Brown said the amount of contamination found in the plant is small, but noted the U.S. has zero tolerance.

Some of the brands and packaging of cold-smoked salmon being voluntarily recalled by Santa Barbara Smokehouse.

“Our lowest count was 10 times less than the amount they are allowed to have in Europe,” Brown said.

Company officials have been busy notifying customers via letters about the voluntary recall. While the website doesn't yet mention the recall, salmon items on the company sales website say "out of product."

Brown said he expected to get a notice on the website by next week. 

Santa Barbara Smokehouse’s recalled cold-smoked salmon was packed under the Cambridge House, Channel Island Smokehouse, Coastal Harbor, Santa Barbara Smokehouse and Harbor Point brand names, and has pack dates of 8-22-14, 9-17-14 through 9-19-14, and 12-17-14 through 12-24-14. 

The recalled products were vacuum-packed and distributed as both fresh and frozen products. The CDPH website has a list of the specific product names and codes affected by this recall and product photos.

Due to environmental contamination at the facility, California Public Health officials are concerned about other Santa Barbara Smokehouse cold-smoked salmon products that were produced at the facility on other dates, which may be available in stores or in consumers’ homes.

CDPH recommends not eating any cold-smoked salmon manufactured by Santa Barbara Smokehouse with pack dates between 8-22-14 and 12-24-14. The full list can be found here with photos of recalled products available here.

Other brands that may have also been packed during this time frame include: Fresh & Easy, Tetsujin and Imperial House.

CDPH also recommends that anyone in possession of those products with those pack dates place them into a garbage bag and put them in the trash.

The brands of cold-smoked salmon were likely distributed to wholesale food distributors, airline catering companies and foodservice distributors, state officials said.

Subsequent product distribution may have resulted in retail sales to consumers.

State officials said Santa Barbara Smokehouse has voluntarily ceased all manufacturing and product distribution, and is working with CDPH and FDA to address any potential sources of contamination in the processing environment.

CDPH continues to work with Santa Barbara Smokehouse to determine the distribution of potentially affected products.

Symptoms of listeria infection may include high fever, headache and neck stiffness. Infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for severe illness and death.

Listeria infection in pregnant women can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery or infection of the newborn baby. The CDPH website has more information about listeria infection.

CDPH recommends that consumers who feel sick after eating cold-smoked salmon products consult their health-care provider. 

Santa Barbara Smokehouse, dubbed “a modern masterpiece,” was built in 2004. The 15,000-square-foot facility was built to produce high-quality smoked salmon using traditional methods, the company noted.

Yet, despite its rustic exterior, the facility is state-of-the-art and “engineered for optimal workflow efficiency and uncompromising food safety.”

In the decade since the plant was built, advancements have occurred in food safety, and Brown said he wants the modernization project to make his facility the "safest plant in America" when it comes to food safety.

He estimated the project would cost between $750,000 and $1 million. 

"It's serious. It's going to be sharp," he added.

His company employs approximately 50 people, and Brown said he intends to support the workers during the six weeks it takes to make the modifications to ensure the team remains in place.

Anyone who sees cold-smoked salmon manufactured by Santa Barbara Smokehouse being sold can report the activity to the CDPH toll-free complaint line at 1.800.495.3232.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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