Estonian fish processing company M.V.Wool announced that 113 surface samples taken at the company's Vihterpalu plant were clean and that the company is ready to relaunch the plant on January 2.
"From November 26 through December 11, M.V.Wool AS carried out in-depth cleaning at its Vihterpalu plant," M.V.Wool supervisory board chairman Meelis Vetevool said in a press release. "The Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) then took 93 surface samples in the framework of national supervision, which were analyzed at three accredited laboratories and which all turned out to be free from Listeria."
Vetevool added that, in the framework of self-monitoring, the company took 20 surface samples that, according to the analysis of accredited laboratories, were likewise clean.
"This affirms the effectiveness of the in-depth cleaning, and M.V.Wool is ready to relaunch the Vihterpalu plant from January 2, 2020, as the condition prescribed in the injunction made by the VTA has been fulfilled."
According to Vetevool, the company could avoid laying off some 30 employees.
The VTA was scheduled to take 105 surface samples from the company's Harku plant on Monday, to be sent to three accredited labs for testing.
In cooperation with professional cleaning companies, M.V.Wool carried out a thorough cleaning of its two plants, during which it disinfected and sterilized production surfaces and equipment in all rooms. In the course of the cleaning, equipment and premises were first cleaned and disinfected, after which equipment was disassembled, its surfaces cleaned with chemical cleaning and disinfecting products, and its parts sterilized.
In addition to the plants' equipment, all tools were also sterilized at high temperatures. This in-depth cleaning was an additional measure on top of regular cleaning that takes place at the plants on a permanent basis.
Scandal began in Denmark
The scandal connected to M.V.Wool first erupted this spring when, probing an outbreak of listeriosis that first began three years ago, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration pointed the finger at products of the Estonian company. The scandal took a new turn with reports int he media in late September that 28 people had fallen ill with listeriosis in Estonia last year, seven of whom died. Six of those who fell ill and two of those who died tested positive for Listeria bacteria of the ST1247 strain connected with said outbreak.
In October, M.V.Wool carried out a full sterilization at its Harku plant that involved the halting of production for two days. In mid-November, the VTA announced, however, that it had found Listeria bacteria in new samples taken after the cleaning of the production facility.
On Nov. 13, the fish processing company submitted to the VTA an action plan for eliminating Listeria from its facilities, which among other measures called for the temporary halting of production for a thorough cleanup at the beginning of 2020.
The VTA announced on Nov. 25 that it was suspending the activity of M.V.Wool's Harku and Vihterpalu plants immediately. The injunction included production, mediation, storage, import of raw materials and export of raw material and goods.
The suspension is to last until M.V.Wool has proven to the VTA that the outbreak of the Listeria strain ST1247 has been eliminated at the company's locations of activity.
The VTA noted that the company's efforts to eliminate the ST1247 strain of Listeria bacteria, which has caused outbreaks of listeriosis, at its plants has been insufficient.
More than 100 laid off
On December 6, the company announced that it would begin laying off 125 employees on December 14. Since then, all 125 people have received their layoff notices, but there is a chance that most of these employees may be rehired.
On December 16, Tallinn Administrative Court said that M.V.Wool and the VTA are trying to reach a compromise in ongoing litigation; they have until January 8 to notify the court of their solution.
The company and the food authority reached an agreement that would allow the company to partially resume operations, however, M.V.Wool has not yet been granted permission to restart production.
M.V.Wool proposed in court on Monday that the VTA allow the company to continue buying packaged fish and selling it to stores. The company also sought permission to continue the sale of pickled fish, particularly eel, as these products have been heated and packaged and any chance of Listeria being present in these products has been eliminated. The VTA essentially agreed to the proposal.
M.V.Wool has said that its products have always met valid EU norms and that the company has ruled out any possibility of them having any harmful effects on people's health.
Last year, M.V.Wool saw a total revenue of €23.4 million and profit of €437,300. Altogether 36.59 percent of the company is owned by Mati Vetevool, 31.71 percent by Moonika Vetevool and another 31.71 percent by Meelis Vetevool.
Editor: Aili Vahtla