LITTLE ROCK, Arc. (KARK) – Government documents show that Arkansas health inspectors have known about rodents for nearly a year at the Family Dollar Distribution Center in West Memphis at the Voluntary Recall Center.
Records obtained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act show that since March 3, 2021, the facility has been inspected by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) five times.
During an inspection of the facility on March 3, 2021, state inspectors reported significant rodent activity where food for humans and pets is stored.
“I have observed living and dead rodents in this area. I observed products infected with rodents, ”the inspector wrote. “This product has been disposed of on site.”
At the time, health officials said distribution center staff said they were aware of the rodent problem and that it had lasted about 60 days. Inspection documents showed that the agency claimed to have hired a pest control company that would maintain the facility three times a week to take control of the problem. The documents also state that any affected goods will not go to the store.
“The company has a policy according to which, if the product has signs of pest activity, gnawing, excrement, etc., the entire pallet is disposed of in a sealant on site,” the report said.
During inspections in 2021, which took place on March 3 and 19, April 2 and September 22, records showed that Arkansas inspectors found rodents where food for humans and pets is stored. During a September inspection, documents show the state found a rodent in a case of chips, but noted that the agency has significantly improved sanitation and pest control.
Professor and food safety expert Dr. Darin Detwiller has thirty years of experience and did not believe the problem continued.
“It’s a story of repeated failures in the same sanitation area, by the same company in the same distribution center, literally in the same aisles from time to time again,” Detwiller said.
During an inspection on January 3, 2022, sanitary inspectors reported that no effective measures were being taken to stop the pest problem. The state said it had detected significant rodent activity where food for humans and pets was stored, including a dead rat on the roof in one of the facility’s aisles.
However, ADH has classified inspections at the facility as a low priority risk, records show. ADH officials note that low-priority objects are those that deal with pre-packaged products, while medium-priority objects are operations that prepare products, such as most restaurants. Facilities that agencies consider a priority include operations that do things like land preparation.
Government health officials also noted Working 4 You that despite the fact that the Family Dollar facility was classified as a low priority, the agency checked it five times due to identified problems.
“Perhaps the major distribution centers affecting several states and hundreds of stores need to be reclassified as more priority because of the difficulty and tracking, as well as the large number of consumers affected by such a failure,” Detwiller said.
In a written response, ADH stated that the risk was classified as low-priority because the institution was cooperative.
“The Arkansas Department of Health is working with all permits to address issues that arise in their facilities,” an ADH spokesman said. “The agency has collaborated with ADH in destroying contaminated food and in addressing rodent problems.”
Arkansas health officials said that in October 2021, after four state inspections, they reported the problem to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last week, the FDA warned the public that some products from Family Dollar stores in six states may have different levels of contamination.
“In addition, a review of the company’s internal records also revealed the collection of more than 2,300 rodents between March 29 and September 17, 2021, demonstrating a history of infection,” the FDA said last week.
On the same day, Family Dollar initiated a voluntary recall of some products.
“If it was a higher priority, perhaps in this case there would be fewer consumers as a commitment,” Detwiler said.
The facility in West Memphis was distributing products 404 stores in six states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. Family Dollar has temporarily closed these 404 stores as affected products are removed from shelves.
Last week, Family Dollar said it was unaware of any consumer complaints or reports of illnesses associated with the recall.
“We take such situations very seriously and strive to provide our customers with safe and quality products. We are fully cooperating with all regulators to address this issue and are in the process of correcting the issue, ”said Kaylee Campbell, a spokeswoman for Dollar Tree Family Dollar.
On Thursday, KARK 4 News approached Family Dollar and the FDA regarding inspection reports but received no response.