Saranac food plant, accused of unsanitary conditions, shuts down

Ionia County

SARANAC, Mich. (WOOD) — A Saranac food processor has agreed to shut its doors for good after the government filed an injunction in federal court.

The food processor, which manufactured ready-to-eat deli salads and dips, said it agreed not to contest the injunction in order to resolve outstanding compliance issues, not in response to any known health concerns.

The Food and Drug Administration confirmed to 24 Hour News 8 that it’s not aware of any illnesses connected to food processed at the facility.

Friends say the owners decided to retire after 55 years due to the costs of doing business today and regulations. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and FDA filed their request for a permanent injunction against Saranac Brand Foods, Inc. in a Grand Rapids federal court Thursday.

The 14-page complaint filed in court accuses the Ionia County company of repeatedly violating federal safety standards in how it manufactured, processed, handled and packaged some of the 35 ready-to-eat foods it creates.

The complaint also states that during a Nov. 29, 2017 inspection, bacteria that can cause fatal listeria infections was found in 12 of 97 samples taken from the company’s facility at 60 South Bridge St. in Saranac. The federal agencies say two surfaces that tested positive for listeria monocytogenes were the same sites contaminated with the bacteria during an FDA inspection in February 2016.

The court document states the bacteria was also found on the damaged floor in the food processing area and floor drain.

The complaint states in 2017, inspectors witnessed workers spray down a food cart, causing debris to land on an uncovered food cart containing coleslaw. They also saw a worker touch the contaminated floor then food product without washing his hands, the court filing claims.

“The investigators also observed food build-up and condensate on the ceiling above pasta cookers, even after the employees stated that they had cleaned the area, and a thick, slimy food build-up on food-processing equipment after Defendants claimed to have performed a full sanitation procedure,” the complaint states.

Friday evening, the company released a statement from Saranac Brand Foods President Dennis M. Nowak:

“Saranac Brand Foods, Inc. is a locally-owned food processing company that manufactured deli-salads and dips and served customers in Michigan for almost 55 years. We have always placed great importance on producing high-quality food and on food safety. We are well aware of the Complaint and Consent Decree that was recently filed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We agreed to enter the Consent Decree to resolve outstanding compliance issues raised by the FDA rather than in response to any known health concerns. Saranac Brand Foods is not aware of ANY food-borne illnesses and/or other health issues caused by any food products manufactured by the Company. Saranac Brand Foods ceased production of any and all food products over three months ago. The company employed approximately 14 people prior to closing.”

Federal officials say workers also rinsed cabbage with water containing chlorine that was not intended for contact with food, and didn’t properly dilute sanitizer used in the facility. 

Federal inspectors say Saranac Brand Foods was alerted to the health risks the eroded floor and employee food handling posed in 2012, but failed to fix the floor or properly document worker training.

In 2012, the DHHS and FDA say the company provided a floor repair estimate from three years earlier with a handwritten comment, “Will be done when we can afford it.”

The complaint alleges the contamination problems continued for years. During a June 2014 inspection, 13 of 100 samples collected tested positive for the bacteria, according to federal authorities. In February 2016, three of 89 samples tested positive for listeria monocytogenes.

Ryan Pawloski, a friend of the owner’s son, stopped by the closed businesses Friday and told 24 Hour News 8 Saranac Brand Foods was a good company with a long history of serving Michigan consumers.

“It’s too bad,” Pawloski said of the closing. “It’s a good company… something that’s been around here forever.”

Pawloski said he thought the company closed because the owners wanted to retire, and costs had gotten too high.

“The cost of maintaining some of the health standards, just as it is in other industries, just got too expensive to be able to maintain,” he said.

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