The sentence for the first felony conviction under the 14-year-old Michigan Food Law is for 14 to 48 months in state prison plus fines and court costs. It goes to James Ruster for producing contaminated cider associated with a 2012 Michigan outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. His cider was responsible for sending four people to the hospital and sickening several others. The Feb. 18 sentence ends two years of legal action targeting Ruster, who owns Mitchell Hill Farm in Ellsworth. He was sentenced after pleading guilty to willful misbranding and adulteration of food products. A top Michigan agricultural official said Ruster showed “blatant neglect” for food safety and the health of his customers. The Michigan Food Law is also known as Act 92 of 2000. Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), said the conviction in no way reflects the integrity and food safety record of the state’s licensed cider producers. Adams, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in July 2012, said Michigan’s cider producers used Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to produce safe and wholesome cider. “No foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with cider producers following the GMPs or meeting the requirements of the law,” she said “Michigan’s apple industry as a whole works closely with regulators to make sure production practices use the best science available to keep products safe. It is unfortunate that it takes a case like this to point out the potential for harm from producing food items in an unsafe manner.” A state food inspector investigated a consumer tip that Ruster was selling apple cider at a local farmers market in October 2011. Mitchell Hill Farm had been previously licensed as a maple syrup producer, but it was not approved to produce cider. After repeatedly being informed that he wasn’t meeting safe cider production standards, Ruster continued to make and sell his apple cider. State agricultural officials received notification of an outbreak associated with Ruster’s cider on Nov. 6, 2012. The investigation by the regional Health Department of Northwest Michigan and state agriculture and health officials determined that the improperly processed Ruster cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Local and state prosecutors and the Michigan State Police assisted them in the investigation. Several victims continued to report symptoms more than a year after consuming Ruster’s cider, indicating possible life-long aftereffects of their E. coli infections. After being admonished by the judge at the sentencing for being criminally negligent in producing food that caused illness and injury to unsuspecting consumers, Ruster was taken directly from the courtroom to prison. He was given credit for two days of jail time served after his initial arrest. An injunction continues to prohibit him from producing cider or violating the Michigan Food Law.