Food company sued for allegedly diluting spices, sending expired salad dressing to Minnesota prison

A label that said best by October 2019 was peeled away, revealing the dressing was already past its expiration date.

A label that said best by October 2019 was peeled away, revealing the dressing was already past its expiration date. Getty Images/iStockphoto

In August 2018, Federal Medical Center Rochester ordered several cases of Italian and ranch salad dressings from a company called Artisan Foods.

A shipment of “creamy Italian dressing” arrived at the federal prison in October of that year. A label on the container said it came from Artisan Foods, and that the dressing would expire in 2019. But when inspectors peeled it off, what was underneath told a different story.

Below, they could clearly read that the box was from a company called FlavorPros, and the dressing was already past its “best by” date.

How that expired, mislabeled dressing got to Rochester is a long story, according to a complaint filed in South Carolina District Court last week. The alleged incident is part of a lawsuit against FlavorPros on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The bureau is responsible for about 185,000 prisoners across the country, which includes “providing healthy, nutritionally-sound, and appetizing meals” for them, according to court documents. Usually, it works with different food companies through a bidding process, and contracts specifying that the ingredients have to be “pure,” meaning “no additives, extenders, foreign matter, or flow agents.”

FlavorPros regularly underbid other vendors, landing contracts all over the United States. But court documents say owner Charlene Brach admitted to adding “up to 25 percent filler material” to her spices, essentially watering them down. FlavorPros cinnamon obtained by the Food and Drug Administration tested to be, on average, 66 percent other stuff—including “dextrin, maltodextrin, starch, or flour.” The garlic powder didn’t fare much better, nor did the black pepper.

Court documents allege that between 2014 and 2017, FlavorPros scammed “over 80” different correctional facilities out of over $530,000 this way. The Department of Justice summarily suspended the company and its owners from contracting with the federal government, until they were temporarily reinstated in March of 2018.

FlavorPros hasn’t landed a contract since July of last year. But later that month, a brand new company sprang up in New Jersey: Artisan Foods. (It happened to be incorporated at the personal residence of Richard Brach, president of FlavorPros and son of FlavorPros owner Charlene.)

Cue the salad dressing incident. Prosecutors believe Charlene and Richard disguised FlavorPros as Artisan Foods to avoid scrutiny from the Department of Justice and “unjustly enrich” themselves “at the expense of the United States.”

Artisan Foods didn’t respond to interview requests, but according to a South Carolina newspaper, Charlene denied guilt on Tuesday and said if the spices were diluted, it wasn’t her company’s fault.

“I’m not guilty at all,” she said.