Fish processing company M.V.Wool says that the Veterinary and Food Board's (VTA) injunction ordering the company to suspend production at its two plants was unfounded and disproportionate, adding that it will nonetheless comply.
The company is to send its employees on forced leave, starting Tuesday, Nov. 26, following Monday's injunction from the VTA, BNS reports, after repeated detection of Listeria bacteria at the company's premises, despite previous efforts to eliminate contamination.
M.V.Wool says that since the VTA has said that M.V.Wool products which have reach consumers are safe, then an order to halt production is disproportionate.
M.V.Wool adds that there have been no cases of Listeriosis linked with M.V.Wool products and the ST1247 strain of Listeria in Estonia this year. Previous outbreaks had caused the deaths of a reported two people in Estonia, and several more Europe-wide.
The contamination was first raised by the Danish veterinary authority earlier this year, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announcing outbreaks of Listeria monocytogenes in five EU Member States in March.
The company has reportedly also presented a plan of action for eliminating the bacterium from production.
The injunction, which starts with immediate effect, includes production, mediation, storage, import of raw materials and raw materials and goods' export. M.V.Wool CEO had previously linked the latest detection of ST1247 strains to imported raw fish from Finland.
The suspension of activity is to last until M.V. Wool has proven to the VTA that the listeria outbreak strain ST1247 has been eliminated at the company's locations of activity.
M.V. Wool is also calling on the authority to take more washout samples within the framework of national supervisory procedure, to get confirmation of the company's hygiene on the basis of analysis results, as it says Listeria has not been found at the plants during the last month.
M.V. Wool said it has taken some 500 samples to test for the presence of Listeria bacteria from the Harku plant since Oct. 23, adding that all of the samples were clear. For the purpose of self-control, the company says it took 63 samples from production surfaces on the premises, and 428 partial samples.
"The samples taken during the past month confirm that the massive cleanup that took place at the Harku plant in mid-October was effective. Food is safe, as only products free of listeria are exiting the company and no listeria has been discovered at the plant," chair of the supervisory board at M.V.Wool Meelis Vetevool said in a press release, BNS reports.
"The last find occurred on Oct. 23, when bacteria was present in fresh fish bought by the company, which was confirmed also by tests by the Health Board and the Veterinary and Food Board. In addition, Listeria bacteria of a strain not yet sequenced was found in a product made from the same raw fish and on production surfaces," Vetevool added
The company said that EU law unambiguously says that in the event of a violation of production hygiene requirements, such as finds on production surfaces, measures may be applied which improve production hygiene.
Suspension of a plant's operation, prohibition of sale, or recall of products, may be applied only if food safety criteria have been violated, meaning that the presence of over 100 units of the Listeria bacteria would have to have been detected in products in stores, the company said.
M.V.Wool said that in none of its products has presence of the bacteria surpassing the food safety criterion been found in stores this year.
In total 15 cases of listeriosis have been registered in Estonia so far this year, but none of them have been caused by the bacterium that has been linked to the plant of M.V.Wool.
The VTA said that the company's efforts to eliminate the ST1247 strain of listeria bacteria, which has caused outbreaks of Listeriosis have been insufficient. VTA Deputy Director General Olev Kalda said that the decision to close down the plants was the result of thorough analysis.
Editor: Andrew Whyte