Thursday, December 24, 2009

FDA's Useless Consumer Complaint System

Complaint About Swollen Orange Juice Cartons Brushed Aside

"If you still wish to have one of your containers analyzed you may contact a private laboratory."
– Sheila van Twuyver, FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator

Orange juice is a typical part of our breakfast. My husband and I like the taste and the convenience of pasteurized, pulpy, "not from concentrate" juice, and usually stock up on several cartons at a time. We're careful to rotate our stock, using up the oldest date codes first.

On Saturday, December 19th, we reached into our refrigerator for a fresh 64-ounce carton of Florida's Natural "Growers Style" Orange Juice, a product of Citrus World, Inc. To our dismay, we discovered that the first carton we grabbed was bulged. So was the second. Both of these showed a "Best if used by" date of Dec 25 09.

We had fresh grapefruit instead.

On Monday, December 21st, we decided to open a carton of juice that sported a Jan 28 10 expiry date. To our dismay, we discovered that the two Jan 28 10 cartons in our refrigerator were also showing signs of bulging.

How badly bulged were the Dec 25 09 cartons? Check this out.

And this

What does a consumer do with a rogue's gallery of swollen orange juice cartons?

We called the supermarket where we had purchased some of the juice. The store manager simply replied, "Bring back the cartons for a refund."

Next, we telephoned and sent an email message to Florida's Natural on December 19th and contacted them again by email on December 21st. Here is their reply:
"We appreciate your visit to our Florida's Natural Brand web site, notifying us of the issue you had with our Grower's Style Orange Juice. We have forwarded the date code information you provided to our Quality Assurance Department for investigation.

We will follow up with our findings, by letter, with replacement coupons included. We appreciate your purchases of our Florida's Natural Brand products and apologize for the incident."

And, of course, we put in a call to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for Vermont.

After several telephone conversations and exchanges of email messages, we received the following reply from FDA by email this morning:

Thank you again for contacting us about the bulging containers of Florida’s Natural orange juice that may be a potential threat to the health of consumers, such as yourself.

I spoke with the manufacturing facility and they advised that the containers be disposed of immediately. They may not have been held at a proper temperature somewhere between the time they were produced to the time they made it to your refrigerator. The containers never leave the facility bulging in this way. Also, there are currently no other reported illnesses or complaints related to the orange juice.

We advise you to throw away your containers and we will not need to collect them for analysis.

FDA will follow-up with Price Chopper and Hannaford Distribution Centers as well as your local Public Health Authorities in VT.

We will also be following up with the Manufacturing facility in Florida.

If you still wish to have one of your containers analyzed you may contact a private laboratory.

Thank you for your time,

Sheila van Twuyver

Sheila van Twuyver

Consumer Complaint Coordinator

New England District Office

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The two batches of defective juice were purchased from two different supermarket chains, on two separate shopping trips, one month apart. We always use coolers with freezer packs to keep perishables cold in warm weather – and these cartons of juice were purchased during the autumn, during cooler weather. Is the manufacturer suggesting that both Hannaford and Price Chopper routinely mishandle the orange juice? Or that the juice is shipped from Florida to supermarket distribution centers in trucks that are not refrigerated? This makes no sense to me!

As a food safety microbiologist, I know that the most likely cause of these bulged containers is a yeast contamination. The probable source of the yeast is the filling line. What worries me – and what should worry both FDA and the manufacturer – is that these two bulging batches of orange juice were pasteurized and packed more than one month apart.

What does this say about the effectiveness of the processor's sanitation program?

What if there is more than one contaminant in the filling line – Salmonella, or perhaps E. coli O157:H7?

What if the problem is improper pasteurization?

FDA should have analyzed the contents of the bulged cartons to determine whether or not the product presented a health risk. The agency ought to know by now that relying on a manufacturer's assurances that there have been no complaints is not always a recipe for safety.

Readers of this blog have commented in the past about the lack of response from FDA's complaint coordinators – especially when reporting pet food issues to the agency. It's clear that this lack of response extends to human food.

When I worked for Canada's Health Protection Branch in the 1970s, we investigated every single consumer complaint. We knew from experience that some of these complaints were early warnings of significant food, cosmetic or pharmaceutical safety issues.

The Obama Administration has been promising "transparency" in government. Well, it's transparent to this consumer that FDA's Consumer Complaint Coordinator system is a farce!

Anyone for a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice?


  1. This bulgin occurs all the time because the contents are packaged at one temp and they are sealed inside. As the temp outside raises - the internal pressure will cause the package to bulge.

    Try this experiment...with an empty carton just finished, return it to the fridge and seal it. Later that day take it outta the fridge and leave it sealed. As the temp rises the package will bulge.

    It's good to be cautious, and I don't fault you for that. Chances are your fridge is not as cold as you think or at least warmer than the cooler at the store.

    Phyllis - perhaps you ought to check your own handling process before getting too upset and demanding an FDA investigation. This is happening to different batches of juice and it's happening at your home. Just sayin...

  2. @CB. I beg to differ. If anything, packaging is done either at the same temperature as storage, or at a higher temperature (creating a slight vacuum as the product cools).

    My Sub-Zero fridge is cold! 45ºF or below. I've double-checked the digital display against an independent thermometer.

    This is the first time I have ever experienced bulged OJ at home. The degree of bulging of the Jan 28 10 batch, which was mild a few days ago, is getting worse. We bought some Tropicana OJ yesterday. It is in the same fridge. There is ABSOLUTELY no bulging.

    I spent 7+ years as a food safety microbiologist working for the Canadian government; 22+ years in industry; since then, as a consultant and food safety writer.

    Trust me. This is NOT a normal occurrence.


  3. Hi, I just happened upon this post after googling "bulging orange juice". I just bought a carton of this juice (Florida's Natural Original) today at a Kroger in Richmond, VA. It is bulging as you described above. Expiration is April 27, 2010. I'm returning it to the store, but not before notifying the local FDA. Thanks for posting.

  4. @Anonymous. Thanks for sharing. Please let us know what transpires with your FDA notification.


  5. I bought 2 cartons of Florida's Natural about a week ago at an Ingles #450 store in Georgia.It took me about 20 minutes to drive home and put them in my 40F refrigerator.The expiration dates on the cartons are May 21. I noticed a slight release of gas when I opened the first carton and a different flavor. I drink Florida's Natural every morning.The next day the carton was bulged and released gas upon opening. The unopened carton swelled too and it is still in the refrigerator. The juice is not horribly spoiled,but it doesn't taste fresh either. There must be a problem in their processing or shipping. I really like their orange juice,but I may have to try another brand even though they are mixtures of US and imported orange juice. :(


  6. @Anonymous. Barry, thanks for sharing your experience. Please contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Office. The Georgia Office telephone number is (404) 253-1169. Unless FDA receives numerous complaints, they will not act.

  7. Mybe just throw it out, move on and buy a couple of dwarf orange trees and make your own juice?

  8. I get bulging OJ boxes all the time. I am sure it is a temperature issue and nothing more. The FDA acted properly. No one has gotten sick. No otehr complaints. What is the FDA to do? Nothing. Just because you are a little uncomfortable with the packaging is not cause for the FDA to be alarmed.

    Causality vs. causation; youhave not proved an causation and proven there to be any sort of problem.

    Just not sure what you expected the FDA to do about a 'non problem'.

    Trust me, I am not fan of the FDA either, my name is Jamey Kirby, you can Google me. But I understand how the FDA works and what its mandate are.

    Jamey Kirby

  9. I've tried to complain to the FDA before about improper sanitation procedures happening at grocery stores and about outdated parishables remaining on the shelf in the refrigerated section. No response. I love Florida's Natural O.J. Grower's Style as I believe it has the best taste. If I get sick and die from it, then maybe the FDA will do something. It takes a death for the FDA or the Dept. of Transportation to put up stop signs. Go figure.

  10. The FDA's purpose is to protect the corporations from risk. Therefore, the FDA dumps the blame onto you, the consumer. The FDA is supposed to oversee over $1 trillion of goods, but the department is understaffed and controlled by corporations.

    Watch Alex Jone's video: Food: The Ultimate Secret Exposed - PT 1/2

    Food has been and will continue to be used as a weapon.

    Look up Paylean. It is banned in many countries but used in the US.

    Google the following articles

    "US beef withdrawn after banned drug found"

    "If You Liked Bovine Growth Hormone, You'll Love Beta Agonists"

    Look up Epicyte, spermicidal corn was released into the human food supply

  11. I found your blog while looking for info about bulging MILK cartons, of which I presently have two. Your information is useful and I appreciate that you've made your info public.

    However, I have one issue with what you said here: "My Sub-Zero fridge is cold! 45ºF or below" 45 degrees F is too high for a refrigerator. The highest allowable limit is 40 and even that is iffy. I recognize that your training and experience in food safety means you vastly out-rank me in food safety knowledge, but just the same, 45 degrees is way too warm for any intended cold food storage.

  12. @Anonymous (Jan 6, 2012). You are correct. My comment was a mis-typing. I meant to say "40F", not 45. I keep my refrigerator at 39F. Thanks for catching this and making your comment.


  13. I'm drinking orange juice from a month-past-expiration, big and bulgy container right now.

    I'll report back on my findings.


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