The Dole Food Company, one of the largest fruit producers and importers in the United States, was aware of a listeria problem at one of its salad plants for a year and a half before the plant was shut down, according to an FDA report.
According to the FDA investigation, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Food Safety News and the Food Poisoning Bulletin, Dole’s salad plant in Springfield, Ohio, tested positive for listeria at least nine times before the FDA stepped in to do a random test at the plant in January of this year, revealing evidence of listeria yet again.
The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that a criminal investigation, regarding Dole’s role in compromising the health of its consumers, is underway.
Dole’s most recent listeriosis outbreak was detected in July 2015, when 12 people across several states were hospitalized after consuming prepackaged salads from Dole’s Springfield plant. In January 2016, a joint investigation by the CDC and FDA found the bacteria listeria monocytogenes in a random sample of Dole Field Greens, and operations at the plant were suspended. By that time, at least 33 people had been sickened in connection to the recall. Four people died.
Inspection reports from the FDA, meanwhile, indicate that Dole began testing for listeria in July 2014 and the tests came back positive, but the plant continued to produce salads for multiple states in the U.S., and a number of provinces in Canada.
“They’d been having positive tests for listeria for some time,” Bill Marler, the noted food safety lawyer and publisher of Food Safety News, who is representing one of the listeria victims in a lawsuit against Dole, told the New York Times. “If the government inspectors hadn’t showed up, who knows when or if they were going to tell anyone.”
Marler’s client, a 77-year-old woman, reportedly fell into a coma for three weeks after consuming an affected product, developed meningitis, and is still receiving medical care.