At the  FDA’s request, a federal court in Washington State has shutdown a 51-year-old juice maker who was annually supplying 2.9 million apple juice servings to USDA’s national school lunch program.

FDA found juice products at Valley Processing at 108 Blaine Ave in Sunnyside, WA, with inorganic arsenic and patulin, both toxins that pose a health risk to consumers.

Judge Stanley A Bastian on Jan. 14 approved a Consent Decree for Permanent Injunction against Valley Processing, closing the company that employed 71 people in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

Three manufacturing plants, an ambient or “Mojo” warehouse, a cold room, and three coolers are included in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington Decree. All the facilities are located in Sunnyside.

Mary Ann Bliesner, owner and president of Valley Processing, is also named as a defendant. The decree applies to all directors, partnerships, corporations, subsidiaries, and affiliates, who all must adhere to it.

“Defendants represent to the court that, with the exception of holding and shipping products for destruction pursuant . . . at the time of the entry of this Decree, they are not in processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding or distributing any type of food,” according to the decree.

If Valley Processing wants to resume “processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding, or distributing food” they first must give 90 days of advance notice to FDA.

The juice company will also be required to hire an expert or experts with no personal or financial ties — other than a consulting agreement — with the company. The expert or experts must, by qualified reason of background, education, training, and experience help to implement sanitation control programs in a manufacturing environment.

Other areas of expertise required include pest control, employee health, and hygiene.

The decree orders the defendants to stop distributing adulterated juice products until the company complies with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and other requirements listed in the consent decree. In a complaint filed on behalf of the FDA on Nov. 6, 2020, the agency stated that Valley Processing, Inc.’s juice products contained inorganic arsenic and patulin toxins at levels that can pose health risks to consumers.

FDA investigators observed that the defendants processed juice under grossly insanitary conditions and failed to adhere to relevant food safety standards. This included storing grape juice concentrate contaminated with filth and mold in off-site storage tanks and covered barrels outside for several years. Despite the contamination, the defendants combined this juice concentrate with newer lots and distributed the mixture to consumers. This included the distribution of juice for use in school lunch programs. The complaint states that the defendants promised to discontinue using the contaminated juice, but a subsequent inspection by the FDA in 2019 showed the defendants continued to blend the older juice with newer juice for distribution.

“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,” said Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “The FDA is fully committed to taking appropriate measures against those who disregard food safety standards and distribute adulterated food to the public.”

The consent decree of permanent injunction prohibits Valley Processing Inc. from receiving, preparing, processing, packing, holding, labeling, and/or distributing FDA-regulated products unless and until it completes corrective actions. 

Under the consent decree, Valley Processing, Inc. must destroy any juice still in its possession. Before processing or distributing any juice or food in the future, the defendants first must notify the FDA in advance, comply with specific remedial measures set forth in the injunction, and permit the FDA to inspect their facilities and procedures.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the complaint on behalf of the FDA.