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Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Juice Plant Cited for Botulism Risks

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - A juice company with a history of FDA violations has been preparing products under unsanitary conditions, putting the public at risk of botulism, federal prosecutors say. Uncle Sam wants the owners, Delores Campbell and Winston Fearon, enjoined from making and distributing "a variety of fresh juices and juice blends" under the names Juices Inc., Juices International and Juices Enterprises, until they comply with safety regulations.

The federal prosecutor claims the owners did not cook or cool the products at the correct temperatures, and says the plant was cited for violations each time it was inspected, in 2009, 2009 and this year.

"In the food production room, the FDA investigators observed the top elbow of a PVC waste pipe cut open, exposing waste water to the production area during hand washing," according to the complaint.

"In the same production area, investigators found dusty cobwebs dangling above exposed foods and food-contact surfaces from ceiling tiles, which were stained brown in many places. The basement of the facility was littered with debris, garbage, clothing and household items, equipment, bottles of Juices' beverages, and empty liquor bottles."

The prosecutor says Juices accepts carrots, beets and other ingredients from sources outside of New York, including Quebec and California, and ships its juices throughout New York, and to New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

"Clostridium botulinum ("C. bot.") is a spore-forming pathogenic bacterium that can germinate in refrigerated, low-acid juke products, such as defendants' carrot and beet juices, and produce a deadly neurotoxin," according to the complaint. "When ingested even in very small amounts, this toxin is responsible for the human illness known as botulism, which may result in paralysis, inhibit respiration, and potentially cause death from asphyxiation."

Products from California-based Bolthouse Farms caused a botulism outbreak in 2006, and six cases were linked to refrigerated carrot juice. After that, prosecutors say, the FDA looked into how botulism can occur in the processing of refrigerated carrot juice and other refrigerated, low-acid juices.

"The implicated products [from 2006], all of which came from a single firm, were pasteurized but not heated to a temperature sufficient to eliminate spores of proteolytic C. bot., or the most heat resistant type of C. bot," according to the complaint. "Nor were the juices properly refrigerated to prevent the growth of C. bot. strains and toxin production. Subsequent testing of leftover carrot juice recovered from the home of one of the affected persons found botulinum toxin in the juice."

The government claims that beverages produced by Juices may contain other hazards besides botulism, including allergens, metals and glass, because the company does not follow Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations.

The FDA found similar violations in each of its inspections, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and the company continues to ignore regulations and warnings, according to the complaint.

"Despite multiple inspections, numerous warnings from FDA, and defendants' promises that the violations would be remedied, defendants have failed to institute effective measures to bring their juice processing operations into compliance with the law," according to the complaint.

The FDA investigators found that Juices did not have a HACCP plan for its refrigerated, low-acid vegetable juices, and not properly heat and refrigerate its low-acid vegetable juice products to eliminate and prevent botulism spores.

"During juice production, the FDA investigators observed that the water temperature of beet and carrot juices never reached the temperature that defendants identified as critical to juice processing, yet they took no corrective action and moved the juice products to inventory for distribution," according to the complaint. "Upon monitoring the temperature of defendants' walk-in cooler over a 24-hour period, the FDA investigators also documented that the temperature in the cooler, which contained bottled carrot juice, was favorable for the rapid growth of C. bot."

The government says Juices also inappropriately uses defective meat and grill-top thermometers, and does not clean food-contact surfaces frequently enough.

"On various dates during the inspection, the FDA investigators observed containers used for holding in-process ingredients and utensils such as sieves and stirring paddles being rinsed with water and air dried," according to the complaint. "These food-contact surfaces were not cleaned with a detergent or sanitizer. The FDA investigators further observed a plastic milk crate, stored on the floor and coated with apparent food residue, being used to hold peeled and cut beets prior to juicing."

The FDA observed management and workers wearing "inadequate protective clothing" while handling food and equipment, according to the complaint. Personal items, including food, money and mail, littered the facility, and inspectors saw poorly maintained grounds, and a sink used for cooling juice bottles was connected to waste water discharge pipes.

Juices' violations involved the following brands: Double Trouble Carrot Punch, Carrot Juice Drink, Carrot & Ginger Drink, Beet Carrot Juice Drink, Agony Peanut Punch, Cashew Punch, and Irish Sea Moss, according to the FDA. Other company products stored at the facility during FDA visits were Front End Lifter Magnum Punch, Ginger Beer, Sorrell Drink, Pineapple Twist and Soursop Juice.

Juices failed to fix the violations despite two FDA warning letters, according to the complaint.

The government wants Campbell and Fearon barred from preparing juice products at their facility until they comply with safety regulations, and wants them barred from introducing the products manufactured under unsanitary conditions into interstate commerce.

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