School Juice Supplier Sued by Government After Arsenic is Found in Products

A Washington juice company which provides juice to schools and others was accused on Friday of producing and selling juice products with inorganic arsenic and patulin and not maintaining facilities as regulations require. The United States, on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed a lawsuit in the Washington Eastern District asking the court to restrain Valley Processing, Inc. and its employees from processing and distributing food at its facility or a new location or causing contaminated food to be delivered through interstate commerce until it comes into compliance with code and is approved by the FDA. 

Reportedly, FDA inspections found unsanitary conditions in the defendant’s facilities, including a dead squirrel, live birds, and other live and dead animals. The complaint cited this, along with storage practices, as violations of the FDA’s current good manufacturing practice regulations for food distributors and the juice Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point regulation. It also cited United States code relating to food and interstate commerce. 

Mary Ann Bliesner, the owner, president, secretary, and treasurer of Valley Processing, was also named as a defendant. She was reportedly responsible for training employees and daily management of the facility and had authority to correct actions and fire or hire employees. 

The complaint said the defendants provide 2,964,000 apple juice servings each year to schools through the United States Department of Agriculture school lunch program. It also manufactures bulk pear and grape juice products sold in California and other locations. Valley Processing has three manufacturing plants. It stores products in multiple places including an ambient storage facility where the products are stored outside and a cold room at another facility. 

One inspection reportedly found grape juice concentrate, some of which was 10 years old, being stored outside which were contaminated with “filth and mold.” The company also processed juice in the same barrels, using the “leftover sludge that accumulates at the bottom of the barrel” and spreading the contamination into newer juices. Although they were told this was against regulations after a 2018 inspection, the company was reportedly still following this practice in 2019. 

Inorganic arsenic, according to the complaint, is associated with cancer, diabetes, and other diseases, however, it is “reasonably likely to occur” when processing apple and pear juice. Patulin is produced by molds which could grow on apples and pears, but the fruits can be stored in conditions to control growth of the mold. Exposure to patulin could cause nausea and gastrointestinal disturbances. The defendants reportedly had levels of these which were above the allowed amount.