Valley milk slapped with injunction for tainted milk powder

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

STRASBURG — The Food and Drug Administration has filed a court order against Valley Milk Products in Strasburg, banning the production of all powdered milk as a result of salmonella being found during inspections last summer.

A consent decree of condemnation and permanent injunction was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg on March 14. The U.S. Department of Justice represented the FDA in court.

The decree means the company agreed to cooperate with the FDA without confirming or denying its allegations.

The plant at 412 E. King St. has not produced milk powder since July, and cannot resume until 10 “appropriate corrective actions” are taken to sanitize the facility and ensure that salmonella bacteria don’t reappear in the products or the plant, according to the decree.

Those actions include cleaning and repairing all equipment and areas that powdered products touch, establishing a sanitation control program and submitting a set of salmonella monitoring guidelines to the FDA, the decree said.

Calls to the plant and to Melinda Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, were not returned. The injunction does not apply to the plant’s liquid milk products.

Valley Milk and three of its executives — General Manager Michael W. Curtis, Plant Manager Robert D. Schroeder and Quality Control Compliance Officer Jennifer J. Funkhouser — were named as defendants in the decree.

The order resulted from the seizure of 50-pound bags of nonfat milk powder and buttermilk powder worth $4 million from Valley Milk on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23.

The FDA condemned the seized products on March 14. Plant officials must pay a $250,000 bond by April 3 to reclaim the products and submit a “Reconditioning Plan” within 120 days to the FDA detailing how the plant will “attempt to bring the condemned articles into compliance with the law,” the decree said.

The FDA ordered the seizure after inspectors found salmonella on surfaces that pasteurized powders touched during inspections that lasted from July through September.

Inspectors reported finding, among other things, dirty water dripping from the ceiling onto food manufacturing equipment, the FDA said in a Dec. 1 press release.

Valley Milk officials refuted the inspectors’ claim, saying in their own Dec. 1 press release that “third parties” had tested the powders and had not found any bacteria in them.

Officials refused to voluntarily recall the products, which prompted the seizure.

The plant is owned by the Reston-based Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

Amber Sheridan, the association’s director of corporate communications, said Valley Milk voluntarily stopped producing milk powder in July as a result of the inspectors’ findings, and will work to fulfill the FDA’s mandates.

“Our fluid milk side is running and we’ve been able to operate just with that,” she said. “That will be our goal until we’ve evaluated and made decisions on what to do for the future.”

Neither a timeline for when the corrective actions will be completed nor an estimate of the total costs to the plant and the association have been determined, Sheridan added.

The plant converts 200 million pounds of milk into milk powder, cream, butter and condensed milk per year.

The FDA’s November intervention prompted companies across the country to recall products that contained Valley Milk’s powder, including sour cream and chive chips from Route 11 Potato Chips in Mount Jackson.

Salmonella causes 1 million foodborne illnesses in the United States per year, including 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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