May 2, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Dole after Food Safety News reported that the company knew about a deadly Listeria outbreak for two years before issuing a recall.
Food Safety News obtained inspection reports under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. They show that a Dole facility in Springfield, Ohio had its first positive Listeria test in July 2014 — two years before a recall was issued.
In the meantime, at least 19 people in the United States and 14 people in Canada were infected with the same strain of Listeria. All 33 victims were hospitalized and 4 people died. In March, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 77 year-old woman who was in a coma for a month.
Testing records given to the FDA by Dole show nine positive tests for Listeria throughout 2014 and 2015, including four positive tests in September 2014. The company did not fix the problem, tell the FDA, or stop production.
By late 2015, health officials in Canada and the United States were frantically searching for the source of the Listeria outbreak. It was only by chance that health officials in Ohio randomly sampled a bag of Dole salad from a grocery store. It tested positive for the same strain of Listeria involved in the outbreak.
In January 2016, testing by FDA confirmed the same strain of Listeria in a sample taken from a Caesar salad kit, numerous lettuce samples, and multiple food contact sites in the facility.
In an inspection report dated January 16, the FDA warned that Dole failed to perform microbial testing to identify sanitation failures and possible food contamination.
Dole issued a recall and shut down the facility, but reopened just three months later. William Goldfield, a spokesman for Dole, told the New York Times that the FDA reports “deal with issues at our plant that we have corrected.”
Federal law requires companies to tell the FDA when their food has a “reasonable probability” of causing food poisoning. Not all strains of Listeria cause illness. Companies do not have to test the strains to see if they are capable of causing illness.
Last year, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries recalled all of their products after they were linked to a deadly Listeria outbreak that had been ongoing since 2010. One facility in Oklahoma had 17 positive Listeria tests since 2013, but never tested the strains or informed the FDA.
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