Product Liability

U.S. Marshals seize food stored at rodent-infested Georgia warehouse

Acting under a court order filed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Marshals seized an estimated $700,000 worth of rice and other packaged food products from a rodent-infested warehouse in East Point, Georgia. FDA officials said the potentially contaminated food was stored in a warehouse operated by Sun Hong Kai Holding Inc., which does business mainly in the Southeastern U.S. as United Food Service.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued a warrant for the seizure of all FDA-regulated food stored in the warehouse in permeable containers. The federal government’s complaint alleges that the products are adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because they have been stored in unsanitary conditions and may have become contaminated with dangerous bacteria.

An FDA inspection of United Food Service’s facility between Sept. 22, 2010, and Oct. 1, 2010, revealed “an active and widespread rodent infestation, including live and dead rodents within the warehouse where food products are stored,” according to the complaint.

FDA investigators found 28 live rodents, one dead rodent, apparent rodent droppings, 26 apparent rodent gnaw holes in multiple packages of food products, rodent urine stains on food packaging, and four rodent nesting sites. FDA laboratory analysis of samples collected during the inspection confirmed the investigators’ observations. FDA investigators also found structural defects making the facility accessible to rodents.

“United Food Service not only failed to protect the food in this warehouse, it failed to act promptly to correct the violations,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “This prompted the FDA, working together with its state partner, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, to take these aggressive enforcement actions to protect the health of consumers.”

On Sept. 30, 2010, the Georgia Department of Agriculture placed all food in the warehouse under an order that prevents sale of the products.

Contaminated food and food-borne illnesses are on the rise throughout the United States, prompting the FDA to ramp up its regular inspections of food processing facilities and enforcement of food-safety rules. Once contaminated food enters the stream of commerce, it often leads to breakouts of life-threatening illness and expensive multi-state product recalls. The very young and elderly and people with compromised immune systems are typically the consumers who are most vulnerable to illness and disease resulting from eating contaminated food.