The Food and Drug Administration found high levels of arsenic — nearly nine times the allowed limit — in a sample of apple juice concentrate taken from a Sunnyside juice processor. The agency also faulted the company for storing apples outdoors for months at a time.
A Sunnyside, Yakima County, fruit-juice processor has been warned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the agency found high levels of inorganic arsenic in samples of apple juice concentrate. In its warning letter to Valley Processing, the FDA also criticized the company for allegedly storing apples outside for months in open bins, which could allow mold to grow.
A sample of apple juice concentrate tested by the FDA had arsenic levels nearly nine times the agency’s limit of 10 parts per billion.
“Inorganic arsenic is a toxic substance and prolonged exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic is associated with cancer, skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and diabetes in humans,” the agency wrote to the company.
Children are more susceptible to arsenic’s effects, said professor Luke LaBorde, a food-safety specialist at Penn State University who has trained apple producers and processors.
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LaBorde said the arsenic likely came from apples picked at an older orchard.
“Inorganic (arsenic) is usually associated with historical use of pesticides many years ago,” LaBorde said. “Inorganic (arsenic) will not generally degrade with time. It just sort of stays there. If someone is using an old orchard, it’s possible it could stay in the soil.”
He said the arsenic issue could be coming from a specific orchard sourced by Valley Processing.
“It’s the responsibility of the packer to be responsible for the juice and make sure they know where they’re getting raw materials and know that they’re properly safe,” he said. “What they should do is test the incoming apples from various suppliers and try to nail down who is giving them higher arsenic levels.”
The FDA also shared concern over the company’s storage practices, which it said could increase the likelihood of patulin growth. Patulin is a toxin produced by mold.
“Apples are stored outside, without atmospheric and temperature controls, in open, wooden bins for two months or longer,” the agency wrote in its letter.
“I’ve never heard of that,” LaBorde said of outdoor storage. “Open bins is normal, but not keeping them outside … They (apples) should be stored indoors and protected.”
An FDA inspection also discovered Valley Processing would mix batches of juice to dilute patulin levels.
“This is not an acceptable means of addressing the hazard of patulin,” the agency wrote.
The FDA said Valley Processing needs to physically sort out rotten, moldy, bruised and damaged apples before production.
The warning letter comes as the FDA shows increasing attention toward arsenic.
Three years ago, the agency lowered the arsenic limit for apple juice to that of water, and earlier this year the agency lowered the amount of inorganic arsenic allowed in rice cereal for infants.
“I don’t know how these guys crept through under the radar,” LaBorde said. “The FDA is increasing their staff … they’re catching up with these operations.”
On its website, Valley Processing claims to be “one of the largest privately held wholesale juice manufacturing plants in the nation.”
When asked if the FDA’s allegations were true, Valley Processing President Mary Ann Bliesner said, “No. I know FDA has their opinions and we’re guided by that, that’s for sure,” she said. “Our processing facility is fine.”
She declined further comment and referred The Times to the company’s attorney, who has not yet responded further.
The FDA gave the company 15 business days to respond to its warning letter.