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Jan 9, 2007 05:40 PM

MSP - Coastal Seafoods answers FDA suit

Don't know if anyone saw this snippet in the business section of the Star Tribune yesterday (1/8/07):

scroll about half way down the page, it is after the Low sugar cereals article.

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  1. Other than the temperature logs, does anyone know what the nature of the other violations are or are they truly all "paperwork" related?

    Bigger question; has Coastal been found at-fault for any foodborne illness?

    9 Replies
    1. re: Foureyes137

      I'm not specifically certain. There was an issue with histamine levels in escolar last spring which resulted in which caused them to no longer carry it. Whether they were specifically at fault for any illnesses that may have resulted from that I do not know. Besides that I am not aware of anything.

      The FDA has one warning letter on file, from April of 2004:

      From what I had read in the FDA letter, the focus of their complaint was aimed at vacuum packed smoked salmon and how it was handled. But yeah it did read as being pretty much all "paperwork" related

      1. re: djohnson22

        Disclaimer #1: This topic is directly related to what I do for a living, although my clients are from a different FDA-regulated industry.

        Disclaimer #2: I have no doubt that the Coastal staff are very knowledgeable and concerned about offering the best fish. They've proven that over time.

        Still, we weren't there for the FDA audit, so we may never know exactly what the auditor was reacting to. But readers ought to understand that the FDA looks for procedures that ensure the business keeps compliance with FDA regulations -- consistently.

        The FDA wants a process with the right amount of checks-and-balances, plus evidence that the process has been followed and that action was taken when something happened outside the process.

        If that is not written down, it doesn't exist. It just doesn't, end of story.

        Perhaps Coastal can show that what they do have in place keeps the product & environment in compliance with FDA food-handling regulations. Perhaps they can demonstrate that they collect & check evidence of whether the process (a) is being followed; (b) really does what it is supposed to do; (c) requires intervention when something fails.

        Paperwork to the business, a valid process to the FDA.

        1. re: KTFoley

          definitely good points. You are absolutely right that probably no one besides the FDA, Coastal's owner, and the General Manager will ever really know what the auditor was reacting too.

          My comment on it appearing to be "just paperwork" was not to say it isn't a valid process. Rather that it appeared, from what information that is publicly available, that whatever the auditors were reacting to does not appear to be in relation to any direct food safety issues/illnesses resulting from their products. If that makes sense.

          1. re: djohnson22

            Yes, your explanation makes perfect sense. And you're right. The restaurateurs and retail customers deserve a reminder of that:

            The quality of Coastal's fish has never been in question. It's great, we agree.

            It can sound ridiculous on the surface that paperwork means all that much. Just keep the fish cold and clean and fresh, right?

            Still. If the cooler temperature is tracked but no one ever looks at its records to see whether the temperature rose during an overnight power outage, or no one can tell what was done about the fish that was stored in the cooler that night, or no one calibrates the readings so 28 degrees is still 28 and not 33, then that's where paperwork bleeds into process and the process indicates a risk.

            That's where the FDA begins to scrutinize really really closely, because they have no leeway for the first two words in the old "trust but verify" maxim.

            They know that if the careful and experienced staff who look after the Coastal product ever got in on a winning Powerball pool, or happened to go fishing on the Titanic, then only the processes could guarantee that the next day's product will be just as consistently good as it was before they all disappeared.

            If THAT makes sense.

            I wish Coastal well. Let's hope the case turns out better than it sounds right now.

            1. re: KTFoley

              "If THAT makes sense."


              "I wish Coastal well. Let's hope the case turns out better than it sounds right now."

              Most definitely agreed.

        2. re: djohnson22

          Okay, KT and DJ22, I'm so impressed by how much you know about this kind of stuff--the beauty of Chowhound.

          Anyway, DJ22, when I read the letter you linked, it says "we inspected your seafood processing facility located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. " Minneapolis? Is that the Wayzata location or the St. Paul location? (The Strib link you provided mentions that Coastal sells out of locations in Mpls, in addition to Wayzata and St. Paul--is that Sea Salt? Or yet another location?) Or, is the "Minneapolis" location referenced in the letter some other warehouse/processing-type location that serves both Wayzata and St. Paul AND (ohno!) Sea Salt Eatery?

          And does anyone know what's the worst case outcome here? A fine? Jail time? Or could they shut the place down? I hope none of these...but, being realistic.

          And, just a rhetorical question, it says inspections went back to 2000. Even if it was just nuisance "paperwork" stuff that the auditor flagged, why didn't someone at Coastal Seafoods just take care of it, for heaven's sake, so it wouldn't have to come to this? I can see blowing it off the first time, but, after the second or third or seventh time...come on people.

          I love Coastal Seafoods and would be devastated if it disappeared. And Sea Salt Eatery, too. I miss the smell of the sea on the air when I step out to retrieve my morning paper--Coastal Seafoods has been my personal weapon against homesickness (if only they could start bringing in San Francisco Sourdough bread, too!)


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Coastal has three locations -- the Minneapolis site is the original.

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              The Minneapolis store is at 26th and Minnehaha, very nearby United Noodle.

              As KT pointed out, Minneapolis is the original and has the smallest storefront (but a fairly sizeable "warehouse".
              Wayzata is the newest, and largest store.
              The St. Paul store has the best location.

              1. re: djohnson22

                St. Paul may have the best store but it has the worst parking!

        3. DJohnson22, thanks for a good discussion.

          It seems important to say again that the cooler example in the previous posts is only an illustration. It's just background on how the FDA approaches paperwork vs. process in their inspections. I have NO direct knowledge about Coastal's situation.

          TDQ, using tough-love, asks a fair question but there is no firsthand info available to answer it.

          It's a bit of a balance, drawing the line between talking about Coastal's case and trying them in the press/the court of public opinion. I'll pause here until we know more.

          2 Replies
          1. re: KTFoley

            You're welcome. Thanks for providing insight into the FDA side of things.

            Though only an illustration, the cooler example is a hugely important factor in the case of Coastal (and every other business that handles fresh seafood).

            1. re: djohnson22

              As someone who worked for five years at an upscale grocery with two distinct formats that shall go unnamed, I can assure everyone that the problems that may have caught the attention of inspectors at Coastal could have happened anywhere.
              Refrigeration problems and mishandled paperwork are, unfortunately, a reality in the retail grocery industry, as are incidents of ignorance of the rules, as only a few people working in any department are required to be MN Department of Health Certified Food Safety managers. The establishment where I last worked had its deli cited numerous times for things such as garbage cans being too close to clean areas, staff unaware of proper testing of sanitization wash basins, and unclean cuting boards. In the defense of my former establishment, however, an independent, out side testing service was utilized at least once a month to give the store an insight into what they could do better.
              The bottom line is that when an establishment relies on so many people to maintain a clean facility, sometimes, the habits or ignorance of one person can cause problems for the grocery industry. Until these companies send every employee to proper training courses, these things will always happen.

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