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Big Brother Puts the Squeeze on Good Flow

Feds bully local juicer into closing operations – for now

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Sept. 12, 2008

Good Flow owners Tom and Judy Crofut posed for this picture when they won Best Locally Produced Food Product in the Readers Poll for the <b><i>Chronicle</i></b>'s 2004 Best of Austin issue.
Good Flow owners Tom and Judy Crofut posed for this picture when they won Best Locally Produced Food Product in the Readers Poll for the Chronicle's 2004 "Best of Austin" issue.
Photo by John Anderson

Citizens and retailers were bummed to discover that juices and fruit blends from the Good Flow Juice and Honey Co. – a local business of more than 30 years – wouldn't be arriving in stores or eateries any time soon. On Sept. 5, a court decision came down shuttering the company's doors – for now.

Under 2001 federal health regulations for juice processors, there is a requirement that they meet a "five-logarithm" reduction step killing 99.9% of bacteria, a process usually accomplished through pasteurization. However, there was an exemption to this requirement for juice bars and retail outlets that serve their product in-house. Good Flow, a wholesaler instead of a retail outlet, argued that it should also be exempt. "We don't put our juice out for interstate transport," says Judy Crofut, who runs Good Flow with her husband, Tom. With their appeal formally denied by the Food and Drug Administration, they wrote the agency asking for a window in which to keep operating while they made the switch to a new factory. Wary of pasteurization, Good Flow would achieve five-log reduction by sterilizing fresh citrus through scrubbing. Yet, says Crofut, they had to "raise money, get a new plant, and buy new equipment." The response, arriving about a year ago, was a civil lawsuit from the Department of Justice. The Crofuts procured an attorney from storied defense lawyer Roy Minton's law firm to develop a consent decree with the feds that would drop the charge and allow them to operate once a new health plan was approved. "We signed it, and pretty much as soon as they got it, they filed an injunction against us saying we hadn't shut down," Crofut said. The juicers landed in Judge Sam Sparks' Western District courtroom last Friday, where they were told they couldn't put any more juice on Austin shelves. "We have complied with every bit of regulations except for the [five-log] step," says Crofut, calling the regulations "really designed for big corporate America. ... We've been keeping our juice safe for a long time – we buy from reliable sources, clean our fruit in a chlorine sanitizing bath. We eyeball every single piece of fruit, even cut it open to eyeball it on the inside. We feel strongly that our process is a good process and a safe process, but that has nothing to do with our case."

Good Flow will continue its honey business, which provides about a quarter of its revenue, while they attempt to reboot the juice works. They're also collecting signatures to present to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and members of the Central Texas legislative delegation to change the juice laws for local sellers. But until then, says Crofut, the family business selling juice continuously since 1978 is going to stay closed, "since we still need the FDA to approve us. So we're going to stay closed, because we don't want to get in the FDA's face." So much for the party of small government and small business.

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