Valley Processing, a juice supplier, was recently hit with a lawsuit over claims it sold juice to lunch programs that contained unsafe levels of arsenic and patulin.
Valley Processing of Sunnyside, Washington, was recently named in a lawsuit over claims it violated “food safety standards and sold juice products that were unfit for human consumption.” The suit was filed back on November 6 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington. Unfortunately, the juice products were sold nationwide to companies and consumers alike. In fact, “apple juice originally processed at the Sunnyside facility eventually ended up in the hands of children across the country as part of a federal school lunch program — about three million servings every year,” according to the suit.
To make matters worse, during inspections, FDA inspectors “reported seeing dead rodents inside the facility, moldy fruit stored outside for months and juice products with high levels of toxins, including inorganic arsenic and patulin,” according to the allegations. It further states:
“Defendants have an extensive history of processing juice under grossly unsanitary conditions…Although Defendants claimed to be interested in making necessary changes, compliance with the law has not been a priority.”
According to the lawsuit, the FDA conducted annual routine inspections of the facility between 2016 and 2019. During those inspections, the agency found at least “14 violations of food safety standards at Valley Processing facilities.” It states:
“Defendants repeatedly promised, both orally and in numerous letters to FDA, to bring their facility into compliance with regulatory requirements…The most recent FDA inspection showed that Defendants kept none of these promises.”
The suit argues the company did not comply with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point regulations for juice — HACCP — and the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations for food, known as CGMP.” Additionally, during the routine inspection in 2016, FDA inspectors detected high levels of arsenic. One sample of apple juice had “levels of inorganic arsenic at 88.1 parts per billion — nearly nine times the acceptable amount set by the FDA, which is 10 ppb.”
How dangerous is inorganic arsenic, though? Well, the federal agency said, “inorganic arsenic is a toxic substance and prolonged exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic is associated with cancer, skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and diabetes in humans.” At the moment, it is not known whether the contaminated apple juice was provided to schoolchildren.
In addition to arsenic, FDA inspectors also found elevated levels of patulin, “a mycotoxin produced by certain species of molds that grow on apples, pears, and other foods.” Exposure to large amounts of patulin can result in numerous health hazards, including vomiting, nausea, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
To make matters worse, inspectors also observed unsanitary conditions, such as bird feathers, animal droppings, “and insect fragments on top of barrels holding juice concentrate,” according to the lawsuit. During inspections in 2016, 2017, and 2018, FDA inspectors “observed numerous live and dead animals, including mice, rats, squirrels, and birds, throughout various buildings used for both storage and manufacturing.”
As part of the lawsuit, the government is asking for a “permanent injunction preventing Valley Processing from reopening and ordered any leftover juice products to be destroyed.” Additionally, the company must repay the costs of the FDA investigation.