Not So Sweet: FDA Shuts Down Washington Juice Processor

Grapes
Concentrate, made from grapes like these, is one of the products in question. AFP / SAFIN HAMED

A sweet cup of juice can be a refreshing treat, but not when it’s been contaminated with dangerous chemicals. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington sided with the FDA on Friday to shut down Valley Processing, Inc. The Sunnyside, Washington company and its owner Mary Ann Bliesner were issued a permanent injunction against selling juice products with high levels of inorganic arsenic and patulin toxins in its apple and pear products. FDA investigators found “grossly unsanitary conditions” at the company’s facility, with juice concentrate contaminated with filth and mold that was stored improperly in off-site storage tanks and outdoor barrels.

According to the CDC, “Large doses of inorganic arsenic can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea to dehydration and shock.” Extended exposure can lead to conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

The company sold its products to other juice processors, according to its attorney.

The FDA first cited the company in 2015 for unsanitary conditions; subsequent warnings followed. It had agreed to dispose of the contaminated juice, but instead reportedly mixed it with newer lots. Three million servings of tainted apple juice reportedly made its way into a school lunch program. Now, the company must destroy all remaining inventory and would have to correct issues listed in the injunction and undergo FDA inspections before it could resume operation. In November, when the FDA’s suit was filed, Washington news outlet The Wenatchee World reported that Bliesner planned to shutter the company and exit the industry rather than correct the problems. The Capitol Press reported that the assets of Valley Processing were sold in September.

 The Capitol Press also reported that company attorney Lillian Hardy said Valley Processing did not sell directly to consumers. The government’s lawsuit “creates the erroneous impression juice sold into the school lunch [program]exceeded government guidance for patulin and inorganic arsenic. It did not.”

Judy McMeekin, PharmD, the FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, said, “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.”

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