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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Ammonia Leak Ruins Mountain of Ice Cream

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) - An ammonia leak in a refrigeration system cost an ice cream-maker hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a lawsuit from the manufacturer.

Fieldbrook Foods Corp. claims a defective part in a new refrigeration system caused the leak. "Fieldbrook must be made whole," the company says in its complaint in Erie County Supreme Court.

It sued Mollenberg-Betz Inc. of Buffalo and Doucette Industries of York, Pa.

Fieldbrook, based in Dunkirk, about an hour southwest of Buffalo on Lake Erie, produces ice cream and frozen treats such as fudge bars and juice pops. It is one of the largest private-label ice cream producers in the country, according to its website, with annual capacity of 25 million gallons of ice cream and 120 million dozen frozen novelties. It operates two plants, in Lakewood, N.J., and in Dunkirk.

Fieldbrook says in the lawsuit that it signed a contract in 2011 with Mollenberg-Betz, a mechanical contractor, to install new refrigeration equipment in Dunkirk in what is known as the half-gallon palletizing room.

The system was designed to circulate subcooled ammonia - long used as a refrigerant - to keep the ice cream cold.

Some of the system's components were manufactured by Doucette - a parts supplier to the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry - including a fitting connected to the liquid subcooler, the complaint states.

A year after the system was installed, "a worker heard a loud noise and then smelled ammonia" on an otherwise normal operating day, Fieldbrook says.

A leak was found in pipes. "It appears that a weld cracked on a fitting connected to the liquid subcooler. ... Doucette manufactured the fitting and it was a factory weld that failed," the complaint states.

The leak was isolated and the ammonia that escaped was pumped out of the plant. But "hundreds of thousands of dollars of ice cream products stored in the half-gallon palletizing room were destroyed by ammonia infiltration," Fieldbrook claims.

The company tried to salvage some of the damaged product, according to the complaint, "but most of the ice cream products were rendered unsalable by the ammonia."

Fieldbrook says it also lost days of production while ammonia levels were high.

Refrigerant-grade ammonia is not toxic and produces no chronic health effects, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration. But even in small concentrations it can be irritating to the eyes, nose and throat.

Fieldbrook seeks damages for product liability and negligence by Doucette, and breach of contract and negligence by Mollenberg-Betz, and breach of warranty from both.

It is represented by Brian Gwitt of Damon Morey in Buffalo.

Neither H. Van Mollenberg, president of Mollenberg-Betz, nor John Lebo, president of Doucette, responded to emails seeking comment.

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