TRAVERSE CITY -- The owner of Mitchell Hill Farm in Antrim County faces felony charges after authorities contend he sold cider that sickened four people.
Authorities charged James Ruster, of Ellsworth, with two counts of knowingly adulterating or misbranding food. He faces up to four years in jail.
The charge comes more than a year after four people, all of whom drank his cider, were hospitalized with diarrhea. Three of the patients tested positive for E. coli. in November and October of 2012, according to a Michigan Department of Agriculture report.
Antrim County Prosecutor James Rossiter said the charge is unusual for the area.
“This may be the first one I can remember being charged out of the office,” he said.
MDARD inspectors searched Ruster’s facility in November 2012. They found his apple cider equipment was unsanitary and had dried food on it, according to the report. Inspectors said four of five collected cider samples tested positive for E. coli.
A Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development inspector and regional supervisor first verbally notified Ruster that his cider facility in a shack did not meet food law requirements in October 2011, according to the report.
The inspector discovered Ruster still selling his cider a week later and banned him from selling fresh pressed fruit juice, according to the report.
The Department of Agriculture's ability to charge people with felonies is a relatively new development that occurred within the last decade, said its communications director Jennifer Holton.
"Our food inspectors do go out and regularly inspect farmers markets," Holton said.