Dole Found Listeria In Salad Processing Plant As Far Back As 2014, Kept Shipping Veggies

Image courtesy of poppet with a camera

Is it a crime for a company or its representatives to keep on shipping food products that may be dangerous to the public if they know that the items may be contaminated? Dole’s Springfield, OH processing plant has started shipping salad again, but new evidence shows that the company kept shipping lettuce even as it was aware of Listeria contamination in the building as far back as 2014.

The company won’t say what it has done to eradicate the Listeria in the facility that caused an outbreak that hospitalized 33 people in the U.S. and Canada, and killed four. Seeking more information on the history of inspections of the facility and any possible history of contamination in the facility, the blog Food Safety News filed a Freedom of Information request with the FDA. (Food Safety News is an independent publication published by Bill Marler, an attorney who represents victims of food poisoning.)

The first record of Listeria on surfaces in the plant was in July 2014. The company followed its normal protocol of “focused cleaning/sanitization” along with follow-up testing after tests showed positive results in July and September 2014, then again during the outbreak period in September, November, and December 2015. The focused cleaning and sanitization apparently weren’t working, but the facility kept cranking out bags of salad for the Dole brand and U.S. and Canadian store brands anyway.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the subcommittee that oversees and funds the FDA, spoke out about the contamination. “The Dole facility in question has said that they have taken corrective actions, but we need specific answers as to what those actions are,” she said in a statement. “If Dole’s actions are not sufficient to ensure food safety, then this facility must be shut down.”

Senior food safety attorney David Plunkett of the Center for Science in the Public Interest had harsh things to say about Dole’s behavior now that the public knows about the Ohio plant’s history of Listeria. “Dole’s failure to stop shipping products and clean up its plant before the outbreak showed a total disregard for its customers’ health,” he wrote. “Moreover, its press releases afterwards in recalling the bagged salads showed more concern over the company’s public image than for the people who buy its products.”

Dole announced in a statement last week that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the outbreak, and the company is cooperating with that investigation.
Dole knew of Listeria; feds launch criminal investigation [Food Safety News]