filed for bankruptcy in December 2011 – reported moldy applesauce concerns to their supervisor but were repeatedly ignored.Have you eaten reprocessed moldy applesauce? Two USDA inspectors who were assigned to the Snokist Growers fruit processing plant in Washington state – once a major supplier to the national school lunch program but which
KING 5 News reports:
The inspectors say that leaks in the packaging would cause 300 gallon bags of applesauce to spoil. Snokist would scrape thick mold off the top of the spoiled applesauce, heat-treat the remaining product and then send it down the production line for sale to the public.
Even Snokist's own consultant told the company in 2009 that the mold in applesauce "would not be eliminated by your firm's thermal process," but Snokist continued selling the product, reprocessing more than 23,000 gallons of moldy applesauce in 2010.
Former USDA inspectors Wendy Alguard and Jerry Pierce, despite being told to stop fussing about the situation by their superiors, made efforts to keep the applesauce out of schools. However, USDA inspectors have no authority to halt shipments to non-government buyers. According to KING 5 News, consumers often buy Snokist products at grocery stores under many major brand labels, with no reference to Snokist.
It wasn't until last year, when Alguard tipped off the FDA, that Snokist was forced to stop reprocessing its applesauce and lost its school lunch contract. An FDA investigation remains ongoing, while the USDA continues to escape responsibility.
If the inspectors hadn't been stifled by agency management (seemingly tied to industry interests), Snokist's shady practices could have been stopped long beforehand. Who knows how many kids and other consumers of applesauce had their health threatened, or fell ill due to this product?
FIC was contacted by this story's reporter, and happy to serve as a resource. Fortunately, these USDA inspectors were finally able to expose what was happening where they worked. We don't know how many other agency employees have witnessed similar food safety violations but are incapable of blowing the whistle because they aren't safe from employer retaliation. FIC strives toward a system where all of these workers have the freedom to report such problems without fear.
Editor's Note: The original headline of this article was "USDA Whistleblowers Expose Moldy Applesauce in School Lunch Program," and the original second and third words of the article were "your kids." It has been pointed out to FIC that the whistleblowers showcased in the King 5 piece stated that they say they "did their best to make sure that reprocessed applesauce didn't get into school lunch food," and that the FDA determined, while 18 school children got sick from eating Snokist applesauce, "that packaging defects caused the applesauce to spoil, not reprocessing of moldy applesauce." FIC has changed this headline accordingly.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.