FRESNO (CN) - One of the nation's largest carrot producers claims it suffered $20 million in damages after using an Ecolab food sanitizer that decreased - rather than increased - the shelf life of its carrots and boosted yeast growth. Wm. Bolthouse Farms says it anticipates it will lose another $30 million from using Minnesota-based Ecolab's product, Tsunami 100.
Bolthouse claims that Ecolab knew or should have known that Tsunami 100 would decrease the shelf life of carrots, because scientific studies showed it "ineffective at controlling the growth of yeast in treated produce."
Ecolab told Bolthouse that if it used Tsunami 100 "in processing its carrots according to Ecolab's advice and direction, Bolthouse's carrots would have lower microbial growth and would achieve a shelf life substantially longer than that realized by carrots treated with Bolthouse's historic sanitizing agent, chlorine dioxide," according to the federal complaint.
Ecolab claims to be the "global leader in the development, manufacture and sales and service of products that clean, sanitize, and promote food safety and infection prevention," the complaint states. It claims to be the "market leader" in "food safety technical advice and products for vegetable processors such as Bolthouse, including antimicrobial chemical products to sanitize process water used in the cleaning, chilling and cutting of fresh carrots."
Bolthouse says it used chlorine dioxide as a processing sanitizer at both of its processing plants in Bakersfield, Calif., for decades. The sanitizers kill microorganisms in the water used to process the carrots, increase the shelf life of the carrots, and allow "fresh cut-and-peeled baby carrot products" to be eaten straight from the bag, Bolthouse says.
Ecolab began marketing Tsunami 100 to Bolthouse around 2007 as a replacement sanitizer. Although Tsunami 100 is about 10 times more expensive than chlorine dioxide, Ecolab claimed that the cost "was justified by its superior performance" since the shelf life of the carrots would increase from 4 to 6 days to 28 days, according to the complaint.
But Bolthouse says Ecolab knew or should have known that Tsunami 100 "was ineffective at killing yeast and other food spoilage microorganisms on vegetable surfaces and in the process water."
A "Journal of Food Science" article from 2000 reported that the "peroxyacetic acid in Tsunami 100 was much less effective in killing yeasts and molds during vegetable processing than a combination of peroxyacetic and octanic acid, which Ecolab markets as 'Tsunami 200.'"
The "Journal of Food Protection" reported in 2004 that Tsunami 100 "is less effective than chlorine at controlling the overall growth of microorganisms, and specifically the growth of molds and yeasts, when used as a process sanitizer for fresh-cut carrot shreds."
Bolthouse says it received its first customer complaints of abnormal decomposition of carrots processed using Tsunami 100 around June 23, 2009. Some retailers and consumers complained that the carrots had a "strong and unpleasant 'perfume' or 'chemical' odor." Carrots were spoiling at "an unprecedented 12 days" after processing, and Bolthouse determined that "the fermentation odor and the accelerated spoilage were associated with significantly accelerated yeast growth ... on the carrots treated with Tsunami 100, as well as the growth of other microorganisms."
Bolthouse says Ecolab never warned it there was any risk that Tsunami 100 would actually decrease the shelf life of the carrots, or pose a food safety issue.
The spoilage was "so widespread and severe that Bolthouse's hard-earned reputation as a supplier of quality carrots was severely damaged, resulting in the loss of customers and significant reductions in customer orders, thus requiring Bolthouse to incur substantial product rehabilitation costs and causing Bolthouse to lose substantial profits," according to the complaint. Its insurers, Houston Casualty Co. and Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. were forced to pay $5 million and $4 million, respectively, to Bolthouse.
Bolthouse claims it suffered more than $20 million in lost profits, and anticipates a future loss of more than $30 million. It is represented by Andrew Running and Samuel Blatnick with Kirkland & Ellis of Chicago.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.