School Lunch Company Sold Juice Containing High Levels Of Arsenic, Made With Rotten Fruit: Report


A company that participated in a federal school lunch program has been accused by the Food and Drug Administration of selling juice with high levels of arsenic and made from rotted fruit.

The New York Times reported that Valley Processing of Sunnyside, Washington, is being sued by the federal government after it had been repeatedly cited for food safety violations but never corrected their processes. The lawsuit stated the company has “an extensive history of processing juice under grossly insanitary conditions.”

“Valley Processing would be forced to suspend its 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,” the Times reported. “A lawyer for the company and its president, Mary Ann Bliesner, who was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, wrote in an email to The New York Times on Tuesday night that the company had ceased its operations and liquidated its assets. The company was in the Yakima Valley, which is known for its orchards and produce.”

Lillian S. Hardy, the company’s lawyer, said the government’s lawsuit was misleading in that the company didn’t directly sell juice to customers.

“Valley Processing is confident the juice sold by its customers was in full compliance with the F.D.A. guidance,” Hardy told the Times. “Valley Processing did have recalls in 2019 and 2018 of apple juice it produced in 2018 and 2017, and in both instances, the company cooperated with the agency request.”

The company has, according to Hardy, agreed to the terms of the government’s proposed consent decree.

While Valey Processing didn’t directly sell the juice to the school lunch program, it did so through one of its customers.

More from the Times:

Food safety investigators said that they had found high levels of inorganic arsenic in 17 lots of apple juice products and two lots of pear juice during a 2019 inspection. Arsenic, which can come from rock erosion, volcanic eruptions, pesticide use and contamination from mining and smelting ores, can cause cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes in humans, according to the F.D.A.

The inspectors said that they had also discovered high levels of the mycotoxin patulin in the company’s apple and pear juices. Patulin is produced by rotting or moldy apples and pears. It can cause nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal disturbances in humans, according to the F.D.A.

The situation calls to mind the 1996 E. coli outbreak linked to Odwalla juice, which at the time didn’t pasteurize their products. One person died and 66 others became sick during the outbreak. The link between the outbreak and Odwalla’s fruit may have been the result of the company using rotted fruit, or from using fruit that had fallen on the ground and come into contact with animal feces.

Odwalla took measures to address the issues and began pasteurizing their product, which is safe to drink.

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