Orange Bakery Inc., whose customers include Whole Foods Market and Sam’s Club, this week denied claims in a federal civil case that allege the company stopped required food safety testing and has been forging third-party certifications for more than a year.
The bakery company, based in Irvine, CA, has several facilities across the U.S. It supplies fresh and frozen baked goods and dough to retailers and distributors nationwide, including Rich Foods, Kroger’s banner Ralph’s Grocery, US Foods Service and Sysco, according to the complaint. The latter two companies are the nation’s largest foodservice suppliers, with customers that include thousands of schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other foodservice operations.
The case against Orange Bakery, originally filed May 19 in North Carolina’s state court system, involves activity at the company’s manufacturing facility in Huntersville, NC.
Plaintiffs Chris Herr and Lisa Soler want the court to order the bakery company to comply with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They also seek unspecified damages for harassment, retaliation and abuse by officers of Orange Bakery. They are represented by attorney Christopher R. Strianese of Charlotte, NC.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Orange Bakery executives decided to stop using Silliker Inc. for sample testing — including testing for E. coli and Listeria — and certifying documents required by FSMA. It also alleges that the company administration somehow obtained Silliker “Certification of Analysis” forms and circulated them among staff with handwritten directions on how to forge them.
“Defendants’ outrageous conduct was not the result of mistake, error or inadvertence; it was willful and intentional,” according to the complaint. “… it is often difficult when people become sick from bacteria or other foodborne illnesses for them to identify the product that caused their illness.
“Accordingly, it may be that members of the public have been made sick by the defendants’ products and have not yet identified (those) products as the cause of their illness.”
The self-described “whistleblowers” — Herr, a salesman hired in 2007 who has been demoted, and Soler, who resigned her position as SQF practitioner and quality control employee a few months after joining Orange Bakery in January 2015 — also described “filthy” conditions at the production plant and expressed concern for consumers.
“Orange Bakery has a massive platform for its food products and, as a result, the ability to foist its dangerous products on an unsuspecting public,” the lawsuit states.
Orange Bakery denies wrongdoing; files counterclaim
This week, in a response to the complaint and other documents filed in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, attorneys for Orange Bakery denied all allegations of wrongdoing and asked Judge Frank D. Whitney to gag Herr, his attorney and anyone acting on his behalf with a restraining order.
Stating that the corporation will eventually prevail in the case, the motion for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction specifically seeks to keep Herr, his agents and attorney “from communicating with any of defendant Orange Bakery Inc.’s customers except as authorized by defendant Orange Bakery or further order of the court.”
The corporation contends in a counterclaim against Herr that he is in possession of Orange Bakery property, specifically confidential customer information and documents. The company asked the court to order Herr to return the materials and demanded a jury trial to recover damages from him.
Also filed this week was a request from Herr and Soler that the case be remanded to North Carolina’s state court system. They also want Orange Bakery to pay their attorney fees involved in removing the case from the state court.
Herr and Soler contend the move to the federal court system is an attempt by the corporation to force them to incur excessive legal fees so they will abandon their case.
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