A supplier who supplied three million servings of apple juice per year to a federal school feeding program was selling juice with high levels of arsenic and using rotten fruit with toxins, the Food and Drug Administration said in a lawsuit that she recently brought against the company.
In the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 6 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington, government attorneys wrote that the juice supplier, Valley Processing of Sunnyside, Washington, had been cited for food safety violations on numerous occasions. as early as 2016 and had promised to take corrective action, but never did.
“The defendants have a long history of processing juice in extremely unsanitary conditions,” said the trial.
Valley Processing would be forced to suspend operations, destroy its remaining inventory and adopt a sanitary control program developed by an independent expert before it could reopen under a consent decree proposed by the federal government.
An attorney for the company and its chairman, Mary Ann Bliesner, who was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, wrote in an email to the New York Times on Tuesday evening that the company had gone out of business and liquidated its assets. The company was located in the Yakima Valley, known for its orchards and products.
Lawyer Lillian S. Hardy called the government’s complaint misleading, saying the company did not sell juice directly to consumers but through other suppliers.
“Valley Processing is confident that the juice sold by its customers was in full compliance with FDA guidelines,” Ms. Hardy said. “Valley Processing had recalls in 2019 and 2018 of apple juice it produced in 2018 and 2017, and in both cases, the company cooperated at the agency’s request.”
Still, Ms Hardy said, the company accepted the terms of the proposed consent decree, which must be approved by a judge.
The company, which was incorporated in 1980, supplied apple juice through one of its customers to a school lunch program run by the US Department of Agriculture, according to the lawsuit, according to which Valley Processing had distributed its products in California.
It was not immediately clear how long the company had been supplying apple juice that was part of the school lunch program or which districts had used its products.
An FDA spokesperson declined to comment on Tuesday due to the lawsuit, and a USDA spokeswoman said information about the company’s role in the school lunch program was not immediately available .
Food safety investigators said they found high levels of inorganic arsenic in 17 lots of apple juice and two lots of pear juice during a 2019 inspection. Arsenic, which may come from the rock erosion, volcanic eruptions, the use of pesticides and contamination of mining and smelting ores, can cause cancer, skin damage, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes in humans, according to the FDA
Inspectors said they also found high levels of the mycotoxin patulin in the company’s apple and pear juices. Patulin is produced by rotten or moldy apples and pears. It can cause nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal upset in humans, according to the FDA
Instead of developing a plan to reduce the amount of patulin in its juice products, the company changed its quality control standards to allow the use of even more fruits that had significantly rotten, said the FDA.
“During a 10-minute period during the June 2019 inspection, FDA investigators observed approximately 46 apples visibly damaged by mold and rot go through the critical checkpoint of sort / disposal,” indicates the trial.
Ms Hardy, the company’s lawyer, disputed the allegations.
“Valley Processing had procedures in place to cut fruit with evidence of damage,” she writes.
The alleged violations also included mixing the sludge at the bottom of juice concentrate barrels, known as “bottoms,” with newer batches, storing the grape juice concentrate at room temperature and using the concentrate. dating as far back as 2011.
In September, another Washington state company that produces juices, concentrates and purees, Milne Fruit Products, announced that it had acquired the physical assets of Valley Processing, which included real estate, buildings, processing equipment, forklifts and furniture.
Company president Michael Sorenson wrote in an email to The Times Tuesday night that the purchase did not include the company itself or its food products. He wrote that Milne Fruit Products had developed and adopted its own food safety plan at the facility and was not taking over the operations of Valley Processing.
“The acquired assets are operated, managed and supervised solely by Milne and its quality assurance department without any involvement or relationship with Valley Processing. or its past management, ”Sorenson wrote.