A new round of reports about Sunrider International Corp.'s problems with salmonella poisoning and contamination are nothing but old news, say company officials.
In a half-page newspaper advertisement run Friday, company president Tei Fu Chen said the latest accusations by the Los Angeles County District attorney's office stem from "concerns (that) involve previous situations that occurred and conditions which existed early in 1988 in Utah."But while the charges may have stemmed from violations documented last year in Utah, a call to the California Food and Drug Administration confirmed that California's concerns are current, as is the threat of legal action.
"There certainly will be litigation if a settlement is not reached," Susan Bond, CFDA investigator, said Friday. "Negotiations are still in progress, and I can't discuss what the chances are of litigation."
Chen's advertisement appears to be the latest in Sunrider's damage-control efforts since two soy-based products manufactured at Utah facilities were found to contain salmonella bacteria last year.
The Utah Department of Agriculture charged Sunrider in 1988 with violation of nine state regulations, including false labeling - listing ingredients that had not been added to the product and neglecting to list some that had; adding stevia, an artificial sweetener illegal for use in the United States; and of using a salmonella-contaminated soy product.
Michael Clapier, Sunrider spokesman, has said previously that labeling problems stemmed from a misunderstanding, that stevia was never used in products intended for internal use and that Sunrider has since found a source of uncontaminated raw soy. Clapier could not be reached Friday for comment.
The advertisement told readers that company officials are negotiating with California officials. "There is no litigation pending," it said. "Don't be alarmed about yesterday's news."
Bond said sample testing led to a total of five recalls of three products - VitaLife, Nutrien and NuPlus (developed as a substitute for Nutrien).
"Samples tested contained salmonella, which is very serious. Salmonella can kill you quite easily."
Besides the contamination, the CFDA has cited the California-based company for false advertising. Investigators report Sunrider has claimed its products can help with problems such as heart disease, lupus and pneumonia. California does not allow claims on these and other diseases that can't be self-diagnosed, Bond said.
Bond added that some products were misbranded, their labels listing such things as vitamin D8.
"There is no such vitamin," she said.
Last year's settlement with Utah cost Sunrider $20,500. Michele Bouziane, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, said the settlement on California charges could go into six figures. She reportedly proposed the large settlement because of the seriousness of contamination and the company's unwillingness to cooperate with California officials.
Sunrider is also charged in a federal case in Arizona. Plaintiff Debi Boling alleges use of Sunrider products made her hair fall out and her teeth turn gray.
Chen's advertisement acknowledges the lawsuit, but accepts no responsibility for the woman's problems. Chen's open letter said Sunrider had made a special effort to meet or surpass federal standards, and had stopped manufacturing the products in question.