Army Gave Warning of Apple Juice Danger

SAN FRANCISCO -- Four months before E. coli bacteria linked to unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice killed a young girl in Colorado and caused about 70 other infections, the U.S. Army rejected a proposal by the company to sell its fresh juices at commissaries because of concerns over the risk of food-borne disease.

An Army inspector, after touring Odwalla's plant in Dinuba, on June 6, 1996, concluded that risks of "deterioration or adulteration" were posed in a food process that was unpasteurized and included no preservatives. She also found what she considered to be a high bacterial count in a sample.

Documentation about the inspection has surfaced in one of the lawsuits filed in Seattle against Odwalla on behalf of a Chicago girl, Amanda Berman, who suffered kidney damage after drinking fresh apple juice in 1996.

If the Berman cases go to trial, food microbiologists will debate whether the Army inspector's finding of high bacterial counts was accurate or significant. Lawyers on both sides also will argue over whether Odwalla tried to withhold evidence about the inspection.

Attorneys for Odwalla's insurance company did not disclose documents pertaining to the inspection in response to requests for information from Seattle lawyers Bill Marler and Dennis Stearns, who represent Berman and other clients. They have asked a King County Superior Court judge in Seattle to impose sanctions on opposing lawyers for nondisclosure of what they believe is significant evidence that they discovered separately.

Marler and Stearns call the documents "smoking guns" that they say show, at the least, that an inspection found inadequate controls against product contamination.