Dole being investigated by DOJ after Listeria outbreak

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

One of the salads recalled in Canada in January
One of the salads recalled in Canada in January

Related tags: Food safety

Dole is being investigated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in relation to a Listeria outbreak from packed salads.

The firm said it would be cooperating with the agency to ‘answer questions and address concerns’.

The outbreak sickened 33 people in US and Canada. At the end of January, Dole recalled all salad mixes made at its Springfield plant and temporarily stopped production.

After announcing the outbreak was over, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there had been 19 cases from nine states – all were hospitalized and one person died.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said there were 14 cases in five provinces. All were hospitalized, and three people died, however it was not clear if Listeria contributed to the deaths.

An investigation began in September 2015 but the source of the illnesses wasn't known until January and how salads became contamination has not been discovered.

Corrected issues from FDA reports – Dole

Dole said it was ‘concerned’ about stories in some publications about the FDA’s observation reports.

“Those FDA reports deal with issues at our plant that we have corrected,” ​said the firm.

“We have been working in collaboration with the FDA and other authorities to implement ongoing improved testing, sanitation and procedure enhancements, which have resulted in the recent reopening of our Springfield salad plant."

Limited production at the Springfield plant restarted on April 21 and will expand in the coming weeks. 

Howard Roeder, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, said it was ‘grateful’ for the support it had received from employees and the town of Springfield.

Their commitment has been, and will always be, the cornerstone of the Dole Fresh Vegetables organization.”​ 

Alex Solomon, of Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP, said it is expected that when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs, criminal scrutiny will follow. 

“Companies, directors and executives need to prepare themselves for this new norm, which can include prosecution not only under laws specifically regulating food safety, but also laws of more general application such as wire and mail fraud.”

Daniel Zinman, of Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP, said: “The investigation into Dole’s Listeria outbreak underscores the seriousness with which criminal prosecutors, notably the Department of Justice, now treat food safety outbreaks.” 

Stop letting firms write own recall notices - CSPI

David Plunkett, CSPI senior food safety attorney,said the FDA should stop letting companies write their own recall notices and instead use the recall notification system called for in FSMA. 

“That system would require the FDA—not self-interested companies—to prepare recall notices that grocery stores must display for 14 days,” ​he said. 

“Unfortunately, based on the agency’s actions to date, the FDA hasn’t done much to implement those recall provisions, and doesn’t appear to take informing consumers much more seriously than Dole did.”

Plunkett said Dole’s failure to stop shipping products and clean up its plant before the outbreak showed a ‘total disregard for its customers’ health’.  

“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’s customers deserved better than the company’s self-serving announcement.”

Related topics: Food safety and labeling

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