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Grand Jury Weighs Whether ‘Dollar Store’ Food Is Suitable for Human Consumption

(Food Safety News) The Dollar General Corporation’s “dollar stores” are sometimes used by researchers as a poverty indicator and this year a corner of those more than 18,000 locations in the continental United States were called out for rodents and other sanitation problems. And a federal grand jury has joined these investigations.

Dollar Stores with problems were connected with the Family Dollar distribution center in West Memphis, AR. This includes Dollar Tree stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

This is the area where Dollar Tree Distribution Inc. recalled all food and certain other products because of potential exposure to rodents.

In response to the recent inspections, the Eastern District of Arkansas has reportedly issued a federal grand jury subpoena for more information from Dollar.

The grand jury is seeking information on the pest and sanitation issues that led to last month’s recall of drugs, cosmetics, human food and animal foods from 404 stores in six U.S. states.

Dollar has confirmed it has received the subpoena and said it it incurred a $34.1 million loss because of the recall.

The February recall came after January’s ’s FDA warning to consumers to throw out products from “Family Dollar” stores in a number of categories, including human food, because of a severe rodent infestation in the West Memphis distribution facility.

“More than 1,100 dead rodents were recovered from the facility following a fumigation at the facility in January 2022. Additionally, a review of the company’s internal records also indicated the collection of more than 2,300 rodents between March 29 and Sept. 17, 2021, demonstrating a history of infestation,” according to the FDA’s public warning.

The inspection reports from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are the basis for the public health warning and product recall are now public documents.

Those documents describe the West Memphis facility as a multiple food storage warehouse and distribution center, used since 1994. Dollar Tree bought the warehouse and distribution center about 4 years ago. Family Dollar Distribution is based in Matters, NC.

Before the current rodent infestations, the West Memphis facility was last inspected by FDA in 2017. No “significantly objectiveable conditions” were found at that time. Pest control records review found “no abnorml pest activity” during the previous year.

Reports from 2022 inspections are much more concerning. Some of the findings include:

  • The company did not exclude pests from its food plant to protect against contamination of food.
  • Specifically, during this inspection we observed rodent evidence, including live rodents, dead rodents of various states of decay, rodent excreta pellets (REFs), gnawings, nesting and odors indicative of rodents throughout the entire facility, including areas where human food is routinely stored…
  • The inspection team observed a live rat possibility chasing live mouse from east to west across the aisle.
  • Significant gnawings and the strong odor of rodent urine on pallets of mix nuts were also documented.
  • There were numerous REPs on equipment and floors.
  • Grounds around the facility were not in a condition to protect against the contamination of food.
  • Rubber seals around piping and wiring had holes.
  • Animal food was not property stored to protect against contamination.
  • Measures were not being taken to exclude pests from the facility.
  • Buildings were not in a clean and sanitary condition.

A half dozen FDA personnel helped conduct the inspection, which ran from Jan.11, 2022 to Feb. 11, 2022.

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