Federal inspectors told to ignore moldy food at Washington plant

KING 5 Investigators have learned that federal inspectors complained for years about significant food safety violations at a Yakima plant but their superiors didn’t put a stop to it.

"I thought it was terrible because I have never seen anything like that in my life," said Jerry Pierce, a recently retired U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector who was assigned to the Snokist Growers plant in 2008. He said he watched Snokist employees “reprocess” and sell applesauce that belonged in the garbage bin.

“It’s appalling that the company would take those measures just to make a few dollars," said Wendy Alguard, the USDA inspector who worked at Snokist from 2009 until the summer of last year.

Snokist Growers is a century-old cannery that processes and packages 50,000 tons of cherries, apples, pears and plums each year. 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.

The KING 5 Investigators obtained public records showing Snokist reprocessed more than 23,000 gallons of moldy applesauce in the year 2010 alone. Other records show Snokist’s own consultant concluded in 2009 that the mold in applesauce "would not be eliminated by your firm’s thermal process." Records show the company continued selling it to customers.

The inspectors say they repeatedly told their boss about the moldy applesauce.
"I guess they promised my boss they wouldn’t do it again and within a week they were doing it again,” said Pierce.

"I had contact with my boss many times and he basically told me to mind my own business," said Alguard.

It was another government agency that finally put a stop to Snokist’s recycling of fruit products. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came to the Yakima plant after 18 North Carolina school children got sick from eating Snokist applesauce. The FDA determined that packaging defects caused the applesauce to spoil, not reprocessing of moldy applesauce.