The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the Dole Listeria outbreak, according to a statement on the company’s website. Listeria outbreaks in the U.S. and Canada were linked to salads produced at the company’s plant in Springfield, Ohio. Thirty three people were sickened between July 2015 and January 2016, four people died.
Years before the outbreak, Dole found Listeria at the plant, Food Poisoning Bulletin was first to report in March 2016 by obtaining records through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show the company found Listeria in the plant in early 2014 and “infrequently” before that.
The records, dating back to a 2012 inspection triggered by a Listeria recall show FDA investigators noted the plant is not constructed in a manner that allows floors and walls to be kept in good repair. Specifically, they cite cracks in the floor, ruts in floor that hold standing water, rust and peeling paint on the walls. They also noted failure to provide adequate screening against pests, grooves in cutting surfaces, condensate on the ceiling above unprotected washed and sanitized shredded lettuce, food residue in multiple locations, leaking water lines and ice from temporarily stored boxes of raw produce leaking onto the floor of the finished salad product storage area.
“We understand that these recent news reports may raise questions among our consumers and customers. They should be assured, however, that we have worked in conjunction with the FDA to address those observations and ensure that Dole products are safe,” Dole said in the statement today.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have completed their investigations of the Springfield, plant, according to the company which recently restarted production. The plant was temporarily closed after the outbreak was confirmed earlier this year.
The outbreak included 19 confirmed cases in the U.S. and one fatality. In Canada, 14 people were sickened and three of them died, although health officials in Canada have not been determined if Listeria was the cause of those deaths. All case patients in both countries were hospitalized. One illness was reported in a pregnant woman.
In the U.S. outbreak, case patients, who ranged in age from 3 years to 83, reported onset of illness from July 5, 2015 to January 31, 2016. Illnesses were reported from Connecticut (1), Indiana (1), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (4), Missouri (2), New Jersey (1), New York (6), Ohio (2) and Pennsylvania (1).The fatality was reported in Michigan.
Fourteen of the U.S. case patients were interviewed by health officials. Thirteen of them reported eating a packaged salad before they became ill. The nine people who specified a brand of packaged salad, reported various kinds of Dole brand packaged salads, according to the CDC.
Recalls were issued in both countries. In Canada, the salads linked to the outbreak were sold under the brand names Dole and PC Organics. In the U.S., the recalled salads were sold under the following names: Dole, Fresh Selections, Simple Truth, Marketside, The Little Salad Bar, and President’s Choice.
Health officials used whole genome sequencing (WGS) to determine that the isolates of case patients in both countries were closely related genetically. Genetic, epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated a link between packaged salad products produced at Dole’s Springfield plant and the outbreak of listeriosis.
Symptoms of a Listeria infection can take as long as 70 days to develop. They include: nausea and diarrhea followed by fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and muscle aches. Young children, seniors, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk for Listeria infections. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and illness in newborns.