A Michigan man was sentenced to up to four years in prison after pleading guilty to willful misbranding and adulteration of food products.
James Ruster, owner of Mitchel Hill Farm Ellsworth, MI, was sentenced to 14 to 48 months in prison plus fines on Feb. 18. Ruster’s conviction was the first under Michigan’s state food law.
“Mr. Ruster showed a blatant neglect for not only the safety of his food products, but the health of his customers. It’s tragic that people were so greatly impacted by his willful disregard for food safety rules and regulations,” said Jamie Clover Adams, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) director in a news release.
In October 2011, a MDARD food inspector investigated a consumer tip that Ruster was selling apple cider at a local farmers market. Mitchell Hill Farm had been previously licensed as a maple syrup producer but was not approved to produce sweet cider. After repeatedly being informed that he wasn’t meeting safe sweet cider production standards, Ruster continued to make and sell sweet cider.
MDARD received notification of an outbreak associated with Ruster’s sweet cider on Nov. 6, 2012. Subsequent investigation by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, MDARD and the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) determined the improperly processed sweet cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak putting four individuals in the hospital, including two children. Several individuals affected by the outbreak continue to report symptoms today, more than a year after consuming the sweet cider.
“No foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with (sweet) cider producers following the GMPs or meeting the requirements of the law, and Michigan’s apple industry as a whole works closely with regulators to make sure production practices use the best science available to keep products safe,” said Clover Adams. “It is unfortunate that it takes a case like this to point out the potential for harm from producing food items in an unsafe manner.”
Ruster is also under an injunction prohibiting him from producing cider or violating the food law.
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