A juice manufacturer in Washington state has been indicted on charges of distributing contaminated concentrates, including to school free-lunch programs.
From October 2012 to June 2019, Valley Processing Inc. allegedly made apple and grape juice products in unclean conditions, leading to products being tainted with contaminants such as arsenic.
Mary Ann Bliesner, the 80-year-old former president and owner of VPI, lied to customers about the quality and age of the products she supplied them, and some juice products had been left outside in the elements for years before being sold, according to prosecutors.
Some of the juice made its way to the National School Lunch Program which provides free and reduced-price food to students from poor families.
How did VPI’s juice get past the Food and Drug Administration?
Ms. Bliesner and VPI did not register two facilities used to store juice products and lied to FDA inspectors about their existence, said federal prosecutors.
One of the hidden facilities in Sunnyside, Washington, known as the “Grape Road Facility”, allegedly stored tens of thousands of gallons of grape juice concentrate in concrete vats that were neither properly covered nor properly cooled off.
When FDA investigators inspected the facility in May 2018, they said they found that “juice concentrate had a layer of mold and crust so thick and firm that a live rat was observed and photographed walking on top of it.”
Testing of samples from the “Grape Road Facility” found that juice there was contaminated with mold, yeast, bird and rodent droppings, decaying animal remains, fur, and insects, according to the indictment.
In 2020, authorities filed a complaint in federal court to prevent Ms. Bliesner and VPI from producing, storing, or selling juice products. In 2021, Ms. Bliesner and VPI agreed to an injunction, promising that they were not “processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding, or distributing any type of food, and would not do so in the future without first notifying and receiving approval from the FDA.”
After this, VPI shut down.
The charges against Ms. Bliesner include 12 felony counts of fraud, conspiracy, false statements, and violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
If convicted, she would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. VPI, although now defunct, could also be fined $500,000 or more for each of the 12 charges.