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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

District Court Enters Permanent Injunction Against Alabama Seafood Manufacturer and Company’s Co-Owners to Prevent Distribution of Adulterated and Misbranded Seafood Products

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against BEK Catering LLC dba Floppers Foods LLC of Daphne, Alabama, and its co-owners, Billy B. Stembridge and Kyle D. Huxen, to prevent the distribution of adulterated and misbranded seafood products, the Department of Justice announced today. 

The Department filed a complaint in the Southern District of Alabama on July 1, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  According to the complaint, BEK Catering prepares, processes, packs, holds, and distributes ready-to-eat seafood products, namely seafood soups sold under the names Shrimp Locksley and Mama’s Gumbo.  The complaint alleged that the defendants caused food to become adulterated and misbranded. 

“Adulterated and misbranded seafood products can create serious health risks for consumers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to work aggressively with the FDA to ensure a safe food supply.”

In conjunction with the filing of the complaint, the defendants agreed to settle the litigation and be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction.  As part of the settlement, the defendants represented that they are no longer engaged in the processing, packing, or holding of fish and fishery products from any location except for activities incidental to product transport and delivery.  Under the permanent injunction, if the defendants intend to resume processing, packing, or holding fish or fishery products at or from any location, beyond activities incidental to transporting and delivering product, they must notify FDA in writing 90 days in advance, comply with specific remedial measures set forth in the injunction, and be subject to FDA inspection. 

According to the complaint, Stembridge is a co-owner of BEK Catering and refers to himself as the firm’s “Managing Partner.”  As alleged in the complaint, Stembridge has ultimate authority over all of the firm’s operations, including major financial expenditures, production processes, product distribution, and employee supervision.  The complaint further alleged that Huxen is a co-owner of BEK Catering, responsible for BEK Catering’s compliance with FDA’s seafood processing regulations and training new employees, and shares responsibility with Stembridge for the firm’s operations.

As alleged in the complaint, the defendants caused the company’s food to become adulterated in that it was prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.  For example, according to the complaint, during a 2015 inspection, FDA determined that the defendants failed to have adequate control over the risk of C. botulium and C. perfringens growth and toxin formation, failed to have adequate control over the risk of L. mono growth, and failed to have adequate control over the hazards posed by major food allergens and food additives.

C. botulinum is a bacterium that forms spores capable of producing a potent neurotoxin in food.  People are susceptible to C. botulinum’s neurotoxin, and ingestion of even a small amount of the neurotoxin can cause botulism.  Although the incidence of botulism is rare, the disease can cause paralysis and has a high mortality rate if treatment is not prompt and appropriate.

C. perfringen is a bacterium that causes foodborne illness.  High doses of this bacterium can form a toxin in the digestive tract that results in illness.  People can be sickened by C. perfringens’ toxin, which causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps and can produce more severe symptoms in the young and elderly. 

L. mono. is the bacterium that causes listeriosis, a disease commonly contracted by eating food contaminated with L. mono.  Listeriosis can be serious, even fatal, for vulnerable groups such as newborns and people with impaired immune systems.  The most serious forms of listeriosis can result in meningitis and septicemia.  Pregnant women may contract flu-like symptoms from listeriosis, and complications from the disease can result in miscarriage, or a life-threatening infection in the newborn.

As noted in the complaint, FDA has conducted five inspections of BEK Catering’s various manufacturing facilities dating back to 2011, and during each inspection, FDA found similar types of insanitary conditions and repeated violations of seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point regulations and current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations.

The government is represented by Counsel Melanie Singh of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch with the assistance of Senior Chief Counsel Claudia Zuckerman of the Food and Drug Division, Office of General Counsel, Department of Health and Human Services.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch

Consumer Protection
Press Release Number: 
Updated July 6, 2016