The Food and Drug Administration has charged Tulkoff's Horseradish Products Co. Inc. with adulterating its processed horseradish by adding grated potatoes to grated horseradish roots.

In six separate federal court actions this year, U.S. marshals were ordered to seize cases of Tulkoff's horseradish because it allegedly contained potato starch. The seizures were made at the request of FDA officials.

"The sale of prepared horseradish -- with the substitution of potato for horseradish root -- is economic fraud upon the unsuspecting consumer" because "the price of potatoes is substantially less than the price of horseradish root," the FDA request stated.

Tulkoff's President Sol Tulkoff acknowledged this week that his company did produce a batch of horseradish that contained some potato. However, he said, the substitution was the result of a one-time mix-up that the company did not know about until a routine FDA inspection.

Although several cases of Tulkoff's horseradish were seized in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Massachusetts in January and February, the government lawsuits are still pending, FDA officials said last week.

"We are considering the possibility of further action," said Don Sherry, director of compliance in FDA's Baltimore office. Future actions could include further seizures, an injunction against the company, or prosecution for intentionally substituting potato for horseradish root. If prosecuted and found guilty, Tulkoff officials could face a $10,000 fine and three years in jail for each shipment of adulterated product.

Until now, Sherry noted, "there were no previous violations that we're aware of."

Immediately after the substitution was discovered, Tulkoff said, the company voluntarily withdrew the adulterated horseradish from the market.

According to Tulkoff, the problem was uncovered in a routine FDA inspection of the East Baltimore plant last November. Samples collected revealed that potato cells were included in the processed horseradish. Tulkoff said that his studies showed that only a quarter of 1 percent of the product was potato.

FDA's Sherry, while declining to give a precise figure because the dispute is in litigation, said that the adulteration "would be more than that [level]."

Tulkoff said the mix-up was the result of a mistake by an Austrian supplier who, in addition to shipping the requested amount of horseradish root, also shipped some grated horseradish. At first, Tulkoff said, the company refused to accept the grated product. "But he [the supplier] kept begging us and pleading with us to take it."

"We had no idea anything was wrong with it," he said.

"We've been in business for 56 years, and here we get clobbered for something we knew nothing about," Tulkoff said. "Now," he contended "two government employes are trying to make a name for themselves" by litigating the five-month-old incident.