The company at the center of a massive mice infestation in the east bay has apologized for what the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed inside its 150,000 square-foot facility. Now the state of California says it may recommend criminal charges, after finding evidence the facility repackaged and sold contaminated products to the public. This video aired on August 17, 2012.
An East Bay Food distributor remains closed following an exclusive NBC Bay Area News investigation. The California Department of Public Health shut down Fremont-based San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company on July 11 because of a “massive” rodent infestation.
Now the state says that details uncovered in an NBC Bay Area News report may lead to criminal charges. Our report will Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.
NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski told the CDPH Food Safety Chief Patrick Kennelly that sources claim owners of the company told them to repackage contaminated product and sell it consumers.
“Have you confirmed that?” Kovaleski asked.
Kennelly responded: “We have confirmed that there is documentation that they were screening some products for fecal contamination and there is some indication that those products were distributed.”
According to the state, that would violate health and safety code 110620. The code says that “it is unlawful for any person to manufacture, sell, deliver, hold or offer for sale any food that is adulterated.” Each violation is a misdemeanor.
“It is very concerning that we would actually have people in the food industry that would actually engage in this type of practice,” Kennelly said.
Kennelly said that closing down a facility for more than a month is unusual.
“It speaks to the magnitude of the problem in the facility, the level of product contamination and the level of rodent infestation in the plant,” Kennelly said.
He said the state will make a final decision on whether to recommend criminal charges at the end of its investigation.
In a prepared statement from its newly-hired public relations firm, the company has extended its deepest apologies. It says it has worked with the state health department to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The statement reads in part, “This condition was unacceptable.”
The statement also says the owners were not aware of the scope or impact of the problem. And, the company says it believed it was following all federal regulations regarding the sifting of foreign debris, such as animal contamination, from its spices and herbs. The owners say they do plan to re-open their business.
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