It was getting a little ripe in the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin. The state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection had put a hold order on removing food from Mid-States Closeouts in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin took the action at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which during inspections conducted last November and December found the old Ellsworth Senior/Junior High building being used by Mid-States Closeouts to be a filthy, rodent-infested facility.
The town of Ellsworth, with just 2,900, then experienced something it probably had never seen before. U.S. Marshals, with the Ellsworth Police Department providing backup, descended on the old school and seized 1,500 cases of human and animal food weighing 16 tons.
The U.S. Marshals were acting on behalf of FDA, which had obtained a warrant for the raid from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. FDA said the food products were stored under insanitary conditions at Mid-States Closeouts, which the agency called a distribution warehouse.
U.S. Marshals seized all FDA-regulated human and animal food susceptible to rodent and pest contamination or other filth. The products are adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) because they have been held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth.
With the raid over, problems were just beginning for Mark Reisdorf, owner of Mid-States Closeouts. The Pierce County Department of Health revoked the occupancy permit for the old Ellsworth school, and then the State of Wisconsin announced the Mid-States had been operating without a business license for nine months.
“We have received public health complaints about the building and we are in the process of conducting an investigation, said Sue Galoff of the health department. “This investigation will determine whether a legal process is deemed necessary if there are violations of the public health code.”
Mid-States passed a state inspection when it applied for its license, but then its check to the State of Wisconsin bounced. Local inspectors out of the Eau Claire office were never informed, so no follow up was conducted. “Clearly and inexcusably there was a hole in our license process,” a state spokesperson said.
During an FDA inspection of Mid-States Closeouts conducted in November and December 2009, the agency found widespread and active rodent infestation, numerous gnawed packages of human and animal food, rodent excreta pellets on, in, and around food packages and rodent nesting material. The facility also had structural defects permitting easy pest access to the entire facility, and rodent harborage areas near the warehouse.
“The violations at Mid-States Closeouts are widespread and significant,” said Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner, Office of Regulatory Affairs. “The FDA took this action because the company failed to provide adequate safeguards to ensure that products they hold for sale remain free of contamination.”
The FDA has not received any reports of human or pet illness or death associated with consumption of food distributed by Mid-States Closeouts. However, the seized products were in permeable packages and held under conditions that could compromise the food’s quality.