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"Rat carcasses on the conveyor belt": Grand jury subpoena over Family Dollar rat problem

Rodent infestation prompts Family Dollar recall
Rodent infestation prompts Family Dollar recall 00:26

Dollar Tree on Tuesday said it received a federal grand jury subpoena issued by the Eastern District of Arkansas related to the rat infestation in one of its Family Dollar warehouses. The subpoena comes after a 22-page FDA inspection report disclosed unsavory details about the facility, such as problems ranging from "four rat carcasses on the conveyor belt" to rodent droppings "too numerous to count."

Dollar Tree, which is the parent of Family Dollar, said it intends to cooperate with the subpoena and any related investigation. The subpoena has requested information, documents and records about pests, sanitation and compliance with the law about some procedures and practices, according to a company filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on March 15.

Family Dollar closed more than 400 stores in February after more than 1,000 dead rodents were found at one of its distribution facilities. 

Several products sold at Family Dollar stores in six states were voluntarily recalled, the Food and Drug Administration said last month. Already, the infestation has proved costly, with Dollar Tree saying the product recall and store closures resulted in a cost of $34 million. It also revealed in the March 15 filing that it is facing at least nine proposed class-action lawsuits over the infestation and recalls. 

The FDA report said the company had been aware of the presence of rodents in the West Memphis, Arkansas, facility since at least January 2020. In October 2021, a fire drill sent "dozens of rats" scurrying around the facility due to the loud sound, the agency said.

In an email in response to the FDA report, a Dollar Tree spokeswoman said the company takes "this very seriously and [is] committed to providing safe and quality products to our customers." She added, "We have been fully cooperating with all regulatory agencies in the resolution of this matter and are in the process of remediating the issue."

The FDA confirmed the authenticity of the inspection report. 

"Excreta pellets"

The problems at the facility could hurt Family Dollar's reputation among consumers, retail expert Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, said in a report. 

"We find the situation concerning as we think it points to a wider sloppiness in the Family Dollar operation and a willingness to cut corners," Saunders wrote. "While no one expects a dollar store to be palatial, consumers rightfully want basic hygiene and safety standards to be adhered to."

Among the issues found by FDA inspectors at the facility:

  • Both live rodents and "dead rodents of various states of decay" through the facility, including where food was stored.
  • "A mouse carcass on a pallet" containing Hungry Jack Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes.
  • Numerous "rodent excreta pellets" found on multiple pallets of food, including products such as Knorr Chicken Flavor Rice & Pasta Blend, Knorr Pasta Alfredo, Graffity Taffy, Chestnut Hill Self-Rising Flour, BiGS Taco Supreme Flavored Sunflower Seeds and  Jell-O brand instant Chocolate Jello.
  • "Multiple (no less than 5) rats climbing up rack scaffolding and through a pallet containing potato chips."
  • Many products that were gnawed on by rodents, such as tubs of Italian Pistachio & Vanilla Duo Spread, which had "gnaw holes."
  • Some pet food products also had evidence of rodents, with bags of dog and cat food having gnaw holes in them.
  • Rodent droppings were also found on personal care items like Crest toothpaste and Listerine mouthwash.

The FDA report said the company lacked a system to track reports from its stores that received contaminated products from the distribution center. It also stated that one store received a box with a "live large rat" inside it. 

Dollar Tree said the distribution center remains open but is operating at "limited capacity." At the same time, it is gradually reopening the stores it had shuttered due to the problems at the facility, but it doesn't have a timetable at the moment, the spokeswoman said.

"The facility is not currently shipping FDA-regulated products, such as packaged human and animal (pet) food, drug products, dietary supplements, medical devices and cosmetics," the spokeswoman said. "We are working on a remediation plan."

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