The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Dole Food Company

Dole Food Company

Food Safety Update

December 26, 2010

Back in July, Ready Pac Foods, Inc. announced a voluntary recall of 702 cases of bagged baby spinach after the FDA confirmed a positive result of E. coli bacteria in a random sample. Though no illnesses were reported, the incident triggered memories of the bagged baby spinach recall in 2006, which sickened hundreds and left three people dead. 

We now know that greens are especially vulnerable when it comes to food safety, and that traditional processing of items like fresh-cut greens – bagged and made convenient for consumers to prepare salad on the fly – can allow dangerous pathogens to get into the leaves. Special care must be taken in their journey from farm to fork.

Dole Food Company is at the forefront of creating new techniques to help keep our fruits and vegetables safe. One of the ways Dole farmers use cutting edge technology in their effort to reduce instance of food contamination is by limiting human contact with their state of the art harvesting machines (like Valley Fabrication’s All Stainless Baby Leaf "Spring Mix" Harvester). These machines collect and wash the crops while promoting integrated pest management and limiting chemical and pesticide use. Once harvested, products are taken to state-of-the-art processing plants. All production equipment, walls, floors and ceilings are designed to be completely washed down to maintain a clean environment.

“The technologies we use enhance the safety of our products by both limiting the potential for product contamination and tracking individual batches of product to be tracked from the field to store shelf,” says Marty Ordman, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Dole Food Company. “Our plants are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized every day. Our salad production rooms are kept at 36 degrees, ensuring that products are not only clean, but fresh. Also, Dole’s facilities operate under a strict Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program. HACCP is a food safety program developed by NASA to prevent astronauts from contracting a food-borne illness while in space. We’re proud that Dole is the only company that the FDA has partnered with to observe, first hand, how HACCP can be utilized in the pre-packaged salad industry.”  

Additionally, Dole Food Company integrates RFID chips into their product quality and safety programs – both in the field and the supply chain. RFID chips are affixed to each container used to harvest produce, such as lettuce or broccoli, and track their specific batch from the fields through to its final destination on the supermarket shelves.

The RFID chips do more than just track the origin of the produce, they also contain information on where the product was grown, when it was harvested and which harvesting crew was responsible. If a quality or safety issue is discovered with a batch of produce at any point from the field to store shelves, the information stores on the RFID chip can trace that product to within feet of where it was grown. This enables the company to issue a recall of only the product grown in the affected area as opposed to the entire crop.

“The safety and quality of all Dole products are our top priorities,” says Ordman. “It’s what our brand is built on. From long-held team safety practices to employing new technologies throughout the supply chain, Dole is constantly updating and enhancing the ways we continue to bring fresh, high-quality products to consumers around the world.”

But it’s not all high tech, says Ordman. Some of the safety precautions used by Dole Food Company have been around for a long time. For example, Dole harvests follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), with all harvesting personnel wearing hairnets, rubber gloves and sanitized cutting knives. Things like chewing gum and smoking are strictly prohibited too. Even so, modernization is what keeps the industry competitive and safe. And, he says, the new Food Safety Modernization Act is a great step in the right direction.

“Enhancing the safety of America’s food supply is a very important goal for both producers and regulators. Dole fully supports legislation that promotes consistent federal oversight and strong produce safety standards based on the best available science. We look forward to working with regulators as the Food Modernization Act is implemented,” says Ordman.

Dole is focused on improving the healthfulness of their products as well. They have several new products that are just coming to market. Dole’s 4 oz. Fruit Bowls and Fruit Jars are getting even healthier in 2011. All of these products will soon be packaged in 100% juice – and many already are. Their Bagged Salads have just gone preservative-free, including the dressing. They’ll also be updating their Salad Guides, replacing the number-based taste and texture scales with words to make salad purchases easier. And they are introducing Dole Real Fruit Bites. At only 80 calories a pack, they are a healthy and transportable snack. As part of Dole’s commitment to childhood nutrition, each packet contains 15% of the total daily value of Vitamin C and offers a fun and convenient way to give kids a delicious and healthy alternative to junk food.

Ordman adds, “Dole is both a leader and an innovator in food safety and nutrition. We’re very proud of our record of providing a safe and quality product to consumers around the world.”