Not So Sweet: FDA Shuts Down Washington Juice Processor

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A sweet cup of juice can be a refreshing treat, but not when it’s been contaminated with dangerous chemicals. There’s a little less danger of that today, after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington sided with the FDA 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 dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic and patulin toxins. FDA investigators found “grossly unsanitary conditions” at the company’s facility, with grape juice concentrate that was contaminated with filth and mold being 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 had previously been cited by the FDA and had agreed to dispose of the contaminated juice, but instead mixed it with newer lots. The tainted products were distributed to consumers, including as part of school lunch programs. Now, the company must destroy all remaining inventory and would have to correct issues listed in the injunction and undergo FDA inspections before it can 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.

Judy McMeekin, Pharm D, 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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