Congresswoman wants to close Dole Springfield plant after outbreak

A Connecticut congresswoman has asked the FDA to shut down Dole’s Springfield plant following a recent listeria outbreak linked to it, saying it kept shipping salads after it knew listeria was present.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat and senior member on the subcommittee responsible for funding the FDA, sent the request to close the plant in a letter to Robert Califf, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The letter cited a recent FDA report that indicated internal tests at Dole showed positive signs of listeria as early as 2014.

“It is an outrage that people had to die in order for Dole to temporarily close this plant for four months during the January Listeria outbreak,” she says in her letter. “I urge you to immediately shut down Dole’s Springfield facility in order to put a stop to future outbreaks from this facility. Dole must be held accountable.”

Dole officials didn’t return a call for comment Monday. Company leaders have previously said the issues at the facility have been corrected and the products are now safe.

The Springfield facility reopened last month after shutting down for nearly four months. A listeria outbreak connected to the plant has been linked to four deaths and several illness across the U.S. and Canada.

A Springfield News-Sun review of inspection records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed internal tests at Dole showed positive signs of listeria as early as 2014 and again in late 2015.

DeLauro’s letter raises concerns about Dole’s track record, saying it kept shipping salads after those positive test results for listeria.

She also noted FDA reports dating back to 2014 have pointed to other problems at the facility that could contribute to food safety, including cracks and holes in floors, failure to provide adequate screening or other protection against pests and gaps in building maintenance like rust and peeling paint.

“How this plant is allowed to continue operations and supply American consumers with its products is beyond comprehension,” DeLauro’s letter says.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into the outbreak, and company officials have said they will cooperate and are conducting their own investigation.

The FDA declined to comment on DeLauro’s letter but would respond to the congresswoman directly, said Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman.

Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said he was unaware of DeLauro’s letter to the FDA. Dole, a major Clark County employer, has spent time and money over the past several months to improve the safety of its products, he said, and personally he didn’t have any concerns with the products made in Springfield.

“I don’t feel there’s any threat now,” Detrick said.

The facility has had a history of recalls that’s a cause for concern, DeLauro said in the letter.

“It has been revealed that this is not the first time food-borne pathogens have contaminated this plant — reports show that Dole’s Springfield facility has been the site of five listeria and two salmonella recalls in the U.S. and Canada for salads produced there since 2012,” DeLauro said in the letter.

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