Zombie blood goes bad, lawsuit ensues

Bad taste, exploding pouches – about what you'd expect of zombie blood, right? Wrong. According to the novelty product company Harcos Labs, zombie blood should have a lime flavor and reside peaceably in its container. Harcos' product Zombie Blood, green and conveniently stocked in re-sealable speciman bags, was a snapped-up by customers when it was first introduced in mid-2010. Then, 28 days later, things went horribly wrong.

OK, things did not go that horribly wrong. They went this wrong:

…in late August 2010, Harcos first learned of the complaints of the Zombie Blood product tasting "like yogurt". In late September 2010, Harcos first learned of the complaints of the Blood product having expanding and exploding pouches and foul smell. [1]

What's to blame for Zombie Blood going bad? Harcos says it's the Glanbia Nutritionals product whey Provon A-190, a whey protein isolate and a top ingredient in both Zombie Blood and Harcos' 2009 bestseller, Blood (red and fruit punch flavored). Who's to blame? Harcos points the finger at several defendants in their lawsuit, but Power Brands is the first to make an appearance in this tale. Harcos hired Power Brands to develop a formula for their ghoulish products Zombie Blood and Blood. Harcos claims Power Brands made a series of bad calls in making both products, starting with Provon A-190.

The reason that the Blood and Zombie Blood products tasted like yogurt and had expanding and exploding pouches and foul smell is that Power Brands's formulation contained the protein Provon A-190 manufactured by Glanbia, yet did not specify "hot fill" but rather a "cold fill". Said protein caused growth of microbial organisms and caused the products to, in layman's terms, spoil. [2]

Products containing a whey isolate like Provon A-190, which is a dairy protein, typically require thermal processing to ensure products keep on store shelves ("shelf stability"). Thus, Zombie Blood and Blood should have undergone thermal processing to keep them from putrefying. Both of the processing methods mentioned, "hot fill" and "cold fill", involve thermal processing. "Hot filling" involves heating liquids (or liquidy things) to 85 – 100 ◦C for about a minute, then pouring the hot (> 90 ◦C) liquid (or liquidy thing) into heat resistant containers, where they're kept hot for a few minutes before being allowed to cool. If you've ever made jelly or jam, you've probably "hot filled".

"Cold filling" also involves thermal processing, but the liquid (or liquidy thing) is cooled before packaging, eliminating the need for heat resistant packaging. Seems like either hot or cold filling, with their thermal processing steps, could work for Zombie Blood and Blood - but processing dairy beverages is a tricky business. The pH of the beverage before and after thermal processing, the packaging material and treatment (e.g. sterialized or not?), reactivity of non-dairy ingredients, desired product storage conditions – these are just a few things one must consider. There is a lot of data out there, so companies have a good starting point when cooking-up new products. Even with all the data available, it's best to test new products to ensure quality, determine/confirm shelf life, etc.

One standard test on done of food products is a aerobic plate count (APC), which is used to evaluate the sanitation of products, predict shelf-life, indicate product safety, etc. As the name suggests, APC involves counting – specifically of bacterial colonies grown in oxygen (aerobic). With the APC test, unlike a test in school, you want a low score*. A high APC indicates something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

A product with a high APC hints at of poor sanitation or problems with process control or ingredients. APC testing was done on Zombie Blood and Blood. Harcos is accusing Power Brands' co-defendants Silliker, Inc. (testing lab), Primal Essence Inc., American Bottling (both beverage packaging companies), and others (DOEs) of ignoring the APC results.

Silliker and DOES 21 through 40 have tested and analyzed numerous batches of the Blood and Zombie products after the products had been filled into pouches and prior to release of the products to the market, in order to determine safety and propensity for spoilage. Said tests included an "Aerobic Plate Count". Silliker and DOES 21 through 40 then provided written analytical results of such tests to Primal Essence and/or American Bottling, which proceeded, based on the test results, to release the product to the market.

Said test results indicated that the Aerobic Plate Count was grossly out of range acceptable for release of the product to the market. [3]

This explains why Harcos is out for blood. Or, according to their lawsuit, out for…

…damages in the amount according to proof at the time of trial, for costs of the lawsuit and other relief that the Court deems just. [4]

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This post originally appeared on The Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding (JAYFK)

top image is from Harcos

Excerpts [1] – [4] are from HARCOS, LLC., vs. SILLIKER, INC., PRIMAL ESSENCE INC., POWER BRANDS CONSULTING, LLC., AMERICAN BOTTLING, and DOES 1 though 100, inclusive

*As an APC only deals with aerobic bacteria (not human pathogens or anerobic bacteria or anything else), a low APC doesn't guarantee a perfectly safe product.

References:

Food Science by Norman N. Potter and Joseph H. Hotchkiss
U.S. Whey Proteins In Ready-To-Drink Beverages by Steve Rittmanic and edited by Kimberlee Burrington for the U.S. Dairly Export Council
Shelf stable acid preserved foods by NSW Food Authority
Bacteriological Analytical Manual (BAM)
by the BAM Council of the FDA
FACT SHEET FOR FOOD PROCESSORS, produced by Wisconsin State's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Division of Food Safety