LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – State documents show Arkansas health inspectors have known about rodents at the West Memphis distribution center for Family Dollar at the center of a voluntary recall for nearly a year.
The records, obtained through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, show the facility has been inspected by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) five times since March 3, 2021.
During a site inspection on March 3, 2021, state inspectors report seeing significant rodent activity where human and pet food is stored.
“I observed live and dead rodents in this area. I observed products that had been contaminated by rodents,” the inspector wrote. “This product was disposed on site.”
Health officials at the time reported that staff at the distribution center said they knew about the rodent issue and that it had been going on for about 60 days. The inspection documents showed that the facility claimed to have hired a pest control company that would service the facility three times weekly to get the issue under control. The documents also indicated that any affected merchandise would not go to stores.
“The firm has a policy which states if product has any evidence of pest activity, gnawing, droppings, etc., the entire pallet is disposed in the onsite compacter,” the report shows.
During the 2021 inspections, which took place on March 3, March 19, April 2, September 22, records showed that Arkansas inspectors found rodents where human and pet food is stored. In September’s inspection, documents show the state found a rodent in a case of chips but noted the facility had made vast improvements in sanitation and pest control.
Professor and food safety expert Dr. Darin Detwiler has three decades of experience and was in disbelief that the issue kept continuing.
“It’s this history of repeated failures in the same exact area of sanitation, by the same exact company in the same exact distribution center, literally in the same exact aisles time after time after time again,” Detwiler said.
In an inspection on January 3, 2022, health inspectors reported effective measures were not being taken to stop the pest problem. The state reported finding significant rodent activity where human and pet food is stored, including a dead roof rat in one of the facility’s aisles.
Still, the ADH classified the inspections at this facility as a low priority risk, records show. Officials with the ADH note that low priority facilities are ones dealing with prepackaged foods, while medium priority facilities are operations that prepare foods, such as most restaurants. Facilities considered high priority by the agency include operations that do things like preparing sushi.
State health officials also noted to Working 4 You that even though the Family Dollar facility was considered in the low priority classification, the agency inspected it five times because of the identified issues.
“Perhaps large distribution centers that impact multiple states and hundreds of stores need to be reclassified as being a higher priority because of the difficulty and traceability and the sheer number of consumers impacted by a failure like this,” Detwiler said.
The ADH, in a written response, said the risk was classified as a low priority because the facility was cooperative.
“The Arkansas Department of Health works with all permittees to resolve issues that occur in their establishments,” an ADH spokesperson said. “The facility was cooperative with ADH in destroying food products found to be contaminated and addressing the rodent problem.”
Arkansas health officials said they notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the problem in October of 2021 after four of the state’s inspections. Last week, the FDA alerted the public that some products from Family Dollar stores in six states may have varying levels of contamination.
“Additionally, a review of the company’s internal records also indicated the collection of more than 2,300 rodents between Mar. 29 and Sep. 17, 2021, demonstrating a history of infestation,” the FDA said last week.
On the same day, Family Dollar initiated a voluntary recall on certain products.
“If it had been a higher priority, perhaps less consumers would have ended up as liabilities in this case,” Detwiler said.
The West Memphis facility distributed products to 404 stores across six states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. Family Dollar temporarily shut down those 404 stores as the affected products are purged from the shelves.
Family Dollar said last week that it is not aware of any consumer complaints or reports of illness related to this recall.
“We take situations like this very seriously and are committed to providing safe and quality products to our customers. We have been fully cooperating with all regulatory agencies in the resolution of this matter and are in the process of remediating the issue,” Kayleigh Campbell, a spokesperson for Family Dollar’s parent company Dollar Tree, said at the time.
KARK 4 News reached out to Family Dollar and the FDA Thursday regarding the inspection reports but have not heard back.