After an investigation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Marshals Service has carried out the seizure of more than $800,000-worth of FDA-regulated goods from J & L Grocery in Alma, Arkansas.
The seizures occurred on November 7 and 8 at the J & L Grocery retail store and warehouse locations in the north of Alma. J & L Grocery is a discount or “salvage” grocery store. Salvage grocery stores sell products considered unfit for sale by traditional retailers. For example, the products may be near their expiration, packaging may be damaged, or items may have been salvaged from truck wrecks.
According to the prosecution, the seized property included food, drugs, and cosmetics which had been “packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or may have been rendered injurious to health.”
The FDA investigation of J & L Grocery took place between September 19 through October 23. Images accompanying the prosecution’s filing show rodents in the warehouse. One image appears to show mice nesting in a box of packaged food products. Insects and fecal matter are visible in other images. According to the prosecution, investigators discovered “widespread pest infestation” involving “live and dead” rodents and insects which were found to be “in contact with human and animal food, drug, device, and cosmetic products.” Investigators also found “live raccoons and at least one live cat in the storage areas.”
The inspection also revealed issues with the buildings, including holes in exterior walls, litter around the building, and water leaks.
Expired drugs and drugs which were improperly stored were being offered for sale. These medicines were neither tested nor inspected before being put on sale, as is required by the FDA. Additionally, “J & L failed to keep distribution records to facilitate any necessary recall” of the products they held.
The products were taken by law enforcement using a process known as civil asset forfeiture. This is a procedure where law enforcement may take possession of property or assets if it is suspect of being involved in a crime. In most states, property may be taken even if no criminal charges have been filed against the property owner.
“We’re unaware of adverse events associated with the use of products purchased at J & L Grocery,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb. “The work of our field force and the goals of our vigorous oversight efforts are to find these kinds of potential hazards and intervene before consumers are harmed.”
J & L Grocery has defended its practices. “J & L Grocery has been a valuable member of the local community for years,” said defense attorney J. Dalton Person in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the federal government decided to send nine FDA inspectors to Alma, Arkansas for a 34-day long inspection of J & L Grocery and has now instituted legal proceedings to seize more than $800,000 worth of goods. … We look forward to our day in court.”
Our consumer protection role is the bedrock of the FDA’s culture,” said Gottlieb, explaining his agency’s actions. “We’ll continue to take action against adulterated products as necessary to protect the public health and the safety of Americans.”
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