Dole Food Co., the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, is now under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) after a listeria outbreak at the beginning of this year took four innocent lives in the U.S. and Canada.
While the DOJ has declined to comment on the recent probe, Dole “has recently been contacted” by the government agency regarding its recent recall of all packaged salads from its processing facility in Springfield, Ohio. Just last week Dole finally announced it had restarted limited production at the Springfield plant, which would continue to expand in the coming weeks.
Listeria should never be treated lightly. Not only can the bacteria be extremely lethal do those with weakened immune systems, but it’s also known for its persistence in food-manufacturing facilities. Listeria not only survives in below freezing temperatures, but it thrives in them. While listeria monocytogynes bacteria are not a leading cause of food poisoning, they are among the deadliest foodborne pathogens, causing about 255 deaths in the United States every year.
Some symptoms of the listeria-caused sickness known as listeriosis are fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, cramps, as well as other gastrointestinal problems. Nearly everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has an “invasive” form of the infection, meaning the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract.
The most severe listeria infections have a mortality rate between 15-30 percent. These cases often occur when the infection spreads through the bloodstream to the nervous system and brain, resulting in bacterial meningitis and other possibly lethal problems.
Despite the fact Dole initiated the recall earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal learned upon reviewing an FDA report that Dole knew more than a year prior that its Springfield plant tested positive for listeria. The inspectors also found that Dole failed to adequately ensure its plant did not have any 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.”