The Agriculture Department suspended from government dealings a California company that illegally sold Mexican-grown strawberries for the nation’s school lunch program.
The strawberries are believed to have caused an outbreak of hepatitis A among 187 Michigan students last month, although it is not known whether the fruit was contaminated in the field or during the company’s processing.
Federal law allows only domestically grown commodities to be served in the school lunch program.
The department said Thursday that Andrew and Williamson Sales Co. Inc. of San Diego and its former president, Fred L. Williamson, falsely certified the strawberries were “100 percent grown and packed in the United States.”
Acting Undersecretary Mary Ann Keeffe said both A&W; and Williamson, who resigned after the outbreak was discovered, have been suspended from contracting with the government until its investigation is completed.
“Selling foreign produce to the school lunch program under the pretense that it was grown in the U.S. is a very serious violation,” she said in a statement. “A&W;’s parent firm has admitted to that violation. We are looking very closely at both A&W; and Mr. Williamson to see what charges may be brought against them.”
Providing false statements concerning the origin of a product is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and significant fines.