District Court Orders Washington State Company and its Owner to Stop Distributing Adulterated Juice Products
A federal court permanently enjoined a Sunnyside, Washington, company from preparing, processing, and distributing adulterated juice and other food products, the Department of Justice announced today.
In a complaint filed on Nov. 6, 2020, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States alleged that Valley Processing Inc., along with the company’s owner and president, Mary Ann Bliesner, violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) by distributing adulterated apple, pear, and grape juice products. The company formerly supplied millions of juice servings used in school lunch programs. The complaint alleged that the defendants processed juice under grossly insanitary conditions, failed to adhere to relevant food safety standards, and distributed to the public newer juice mixed with older, potentially contaminated juice.
“Americans must be confident that the food they and their families consume is safe,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jennifer B. Dickey of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We will continue to work with our partners at FDA to stop companies from taking shortcuts at the expense of safety.”
“The purity and security of harvested and processed foods are matters of paramount importance to our citizen consumers, particularly during unsettled times,” said U.S. Attorney William Hyslop for the Eastern District of Washington. “The Justice Department and our FDA partners work hard to ensure compliance with food processing safety and purity standards. We support these efforts which are essential to promoting confidence in Washington’s and our nation’s food sources.”
“Food processors who do not comply with FDA regulations can put consumers’ health and well-being in danger. With this consent decree, we’re taking action to protect Americans, including children in this case, from consuming foods that have been processed in violation of the law,” said Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “The FDA is fully committed to taking appropriate measures against those who disregard food safety standards and distribute adulterated food to the public.”
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, FDA inspections revealed that the defendants’ juice products contained inorganic arsenic and patulin — toxins that can pose health risks to consumers. FDA found that the defendants did not analyze or investigate data from their raw fruit suppliers, as required by law, to determine the origin of these food hazards. The complaint also alleged that Valley Processing stored grape juice concentrate that was several years old outside in covered barrels. The complaint alleged that samples of the old juice concentrate were found to be contaminated with filth and mold, yet defendants combined the older juice with newer lots and distributed the mixture to consumers and schools. The complaint alleged that the defendants promised to stop using the old juice, but a subsequent 2019 FDA inspection showed the defendants continued to blend the older juice with newer juice.
The defendants agreed to settle the suit and be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction. The order entered by the district court permanently enjoins the defendants from violating the FDCA and requires that they destroy any food, including any juice products, still in their possession. As part of the settlement, defendants represented that they are no longer engaged in processing, preparing, packing, or distributing any type of food. Before processing or distributing any food in the future, the defendants first must notify FDA in advance, comply with specific remedial measures set forth in the injunction, and permit FDA to inspect their facilities and procedures.
This matter was handled by Trial Attorney Kendrack D. Lewis of the Consumer Protection Branch in the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, with the assistance of Senior Counsel Tara Boland of the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim M. Durkin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-edwa.