Feds seize tainted food from Ridgewood depot

Feds seize tainted food from Ridgewood depot
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Steve Mosco

This is not kosher.

U.S. marshals seized $1 million in food products last week from a Ridgewood warehouse that manufactures and distributes kosher food products after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found widespread rodent infestation in the facility, the federal government said.

During a late February inspection at VIP Foods, at 10-80 Wyckoff Ave., FDA investigators found several violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, including live rodents, a dead desiccated rodent, rodent tracks, gnaw holes and rodent droppings in and near food products, according to a report by the U.S. attorney’s office.

“VIP’s warehouse was a picnic ground for rodents, and the company failed utterly in its obligation to provide food deemed safe for human consumption,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Those who store, package and sell the food we serve our families have a responsibility to maintain basic standards of cleanliness in their facilities.”

The company, which also distributes food products under the name KoJel, supplies products to supermarkets such as Key Food, Foodtown and Wegmans.

According to Melinda Plaisier, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, VIP housed various dried mixes and bases, such as chicken soup base, blueberry muffin mix and bread crumbs.

“The conditions inside this warehouse were just deplorable,” said Plaisier, adding that the February inspection was one of several conducted since March 2012.

The U.S. attorney’s office said the FDA had issued a number of violations against the manufacturer and had cited VIP in 2009 for “failure to store raw materials in a manner that protects against contamination.” The company was also cited for spilled food and for failing to seal gaps in doors and screen windows.

The company was also accused of labeling hot chocolate mix as “sugar free” despite the nutrition facts label showing that each serving contained 7 grams.

“We are committed to protecting the public from health risks and ensuring that food manufacturers comply with sanitary conditions,” said Lynch.

The lawsuit filed against the company seeks forfeiture and condemnation of the tainted food products. To date, no illnesses have been associated with its products, according to Lynch.

A VIP representative chose not to comment when reached by phone, but did say the warehouse is still in operation. According to the company’s website, VIP was founded in 1983 and is privately owned and operated by the Freund family.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.