A farm owner has been sentenced to up to four years in prison for selling apple cider which caused an E.coli outbreak.
James Ruster, owner of Mitchell Hill Farm in Ellsworth, was sentenced to between 14 and 48 months for one felony violation of Michigan’s Food Law, the first-ever felony conviction.
Ruster pled guilty to willful misbranding and adulteration of food products and was sentenced to prison as well as fines and court costs.
The improperly processed cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2012 with four people, including two children, going to hospital.
Ruster is also under an injunction prohibiting him from producing cider or violating the food law.
“It’s paramount that we maintain the safety of Michigan’s food and agriculture products. Mr. Ruster showed a blatant neglect for not only the safety of his food products, but the health of his customers,” said Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD director.
“It’s tragic that people were so greatly impacted by his willful disregard for food safety rules and regulations.”
A Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) food inspector investigated a consumer tip that Ruster was selling apple cider at a local farmers market in October 2011.
Mitchell Hill Farm had been previously licensed as a maple syrup producer but was not approved to produce cider.
After repeatedly being informed that he wasn’t meeting safe cider production standards, Ruster continued to make and sell cider.
MDARD received notification of an outbreak associated with Ruster’s cider on 6 November 2012.
Investigation by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, MDARD and the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) determined the improperly processed cider caused an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak putting four individuals in the hospital, including two children.
Clover Adams said that no foodborne outbreaks have been associated with licensed cider producers following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) or meeting the requirements of the law.
“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,” he said.