The US Justice Department is investigating the Dole with regard to the Salad / Listeria outbreak. The question being raised is 'what did they know'? This comes after an FDA inspection of the facility found Listeria monocytogenes.
The outcome of this investigation is important for processors who manufacturer products that can be affected by Listeria, especially those that had been regarded as lower risk (do not support appreciable growth). Why? Many manufacturers have Listeria Control Programs that have verification monitoring that focuses on Listeria species testing before production, or pre-operational, on non-food-contact environmental surfaces. If found, then corrective action focuses on cleaning that area.
The concern is that this may not be aggressive enough. We have now seen that Listeria can be an issue in product that supports minimal to no growth. For one, we do not know how the consumer is going to handle products - perhaps using them as an ingredient in foods that better support growth, and in light of the Blue Bell outbreak, what minimal levels can cause illness in those at highest risk. A more aggressive sampling would look at sampling during production and looking more at food contact surfaces.
Can you fault the plant? Not based upon the current FDA Listeria Control Guidance. What will it look like going further?
Wall Street Journal
U.S. Probes Dole Food Over Listeria Outbreak Linked to Salads
Samples suggest Dole had evidence of bacteria at Ohio plant a year earlier
Updated April 29, 2016 6:56 p.m. ET
The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into Dole Food Co. over a listeria outbreak linked to four deaths in the U.S. and Canada and multiple other illnesses.
Dole “has recently been contacted” by the DOJ regarding the outbreak, which involved packaged salad produced in its Springfield, Ohio, facility, the company said, adding that it was cooperating with the investigation.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The produce company in January stopped production at its Ohio facility and voluntarily removed products from stores in 23 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces after salads it produced were tied to fatal illnesses. The company said last week that it had restarted limited production in its Springfield plant, and would expand in coming weeks.
Separately, a government report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed that more than a year before Dole withdrew its packaged salads from grocery stores, the company had evidence of potentially dangerous bacteria in its Ohio salad plant.
Samples taken by Dole in its Springfield plant tested positive for the bacteria as early as July 2014, according to an inspection report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Federal inspectors also found the company failed to adequately test its plant for potentially dangerous bugs.
The FDA reports “deal with issues at our plant that we have corrected,” said William Goldfield, a spokesman for Dole. “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.”
The FDA confirmed the report and said the agency initiates inspections when it becomes aware of information indicating an immediate public health threat.
Federal investigators said Dole didn’t test surfaces at the Springfield plant that came into contact with food. Moreover, Dole conducted testing elsewhere in the plant prior to food production and before sanitization. Food safety experts said this method may have made finding listeria less likely or made it tough to know whether sanitization procedures had been effective.
Listeria is a particularly tricky and virulent pathogen. It previously has prompted food companies to shut down plants entirely because it can be difficult to pinpoint the source and destroy even through exhaustive plant cleanings.
Food-safety experts say manufacturers that aggressively search for the bacteria will find it, though the key is then to destroy and control for the bug.
Health officials had begun investigating the listeria outbreak in September, but tests didn’t tie illnesses in the U.S. and Canada to packaged salad from the Dole plant until January.
During the FDA’s subsequent inspection, a sample taken from a Caesar salad kit produced at Dole’s Springfield plant, as well as numerous lettuce samples being processed for use in that product tested positive for listeria.
Before January, the FDA said, Dole didn’t take any special measures after it received test results indicating the dangerous bacteria could be present. Standard practice for the company involved cleaning and sanitation and follow-up testing at the site where the suspected positive sample was taken.
In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the listeria outbreak linked to Dole appeared to be over.