Attorney Bill Marler cut his professional teeth on food safety law in 1993, when he represented the most seriously injured victim of the deadly E. coli outbreak at the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. Over the last 27 years, he has represented hundreds of victims of food-borne illnesses or injuries and advised even more food-related businesses on how to avoid them.

Cases of deliberate food tampering are rare, but they do happen, said Marler, who practices law in Seattle. And when they do, the companies that produce, package, haul, cook and sell the food have an ethical and legal responsibility to report all incidents of suspected tampering to law enforcement, regulators and the public as soon as possible, he said.

Hannaford’s failure to report customer complaints about finding razor blades in Portland Pie Co. pizza doughs at the Sanford store in August could have allowed the person who sabotaged the dough the opportunity to commit the crime again, Marler said, noting the case in which razor blades were found in pizza dough in the Saco Hannaford in October. Police are investigating whether the man accused in that case, Nicholas R. Mitchell, 38, is connected to the food tampering in Sanford in August.

By not immediately reporting the initial case, the grocery chain left consumers vulnerable to more food tampering, Marler said.

“There is a whole process that is supposed to happen when you get a customer complaint about adulterated food,” he said. “You investigate, contact the manufacturer, call the police and local health authorities, and start thinking about recall.”

And when the complaint involves razor blades in food?

“You speak up, and you speak up fast,” Marler said. “Razor blades don’t just fall from the sky. If it was a bolt or screw, a brush bristle, they could have come off during the manufacturing process. But razor blades? Anybody in the food business who gave it any thought would suspect it to be deliberate pretty quickly.”

The regulatory agency tasked with food tampering investigations and recalls varies depending on the kind of food and where the tampering happens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture handles food safety for meat and poultry processing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducts supply chain tampering investigations and recalls for all other foods.

Both agencies said suspected tampering in the production or manufacturing chain must be reported within 24 hours of discovery.

But the pizza dough adulteration is believed to have happened at Hannaford stores, which are regulated, like all other groceries, by local public health officials and the Maine Department of Agriculture. A state agriculture spokesman reached Wednesday night had no information about any state involvement in the case, which is being led by local law enforcement.

Hannaford blamed a technology breakdown for its failure to report two instances of adulterated dough at its Sanford store in August to corporate executives, police or regulators.

Once Hannaford realized that dough balls at more than one store had been tampered with, it pulled all Portland Pie Co. brand dough from its shelves and issued a recall of those products sold at all of its stores.

The dough manufacturer, It’ll Be Pizza of Scarborough, said it didn’t learn of the bladed dough until Oct. 6. By that time, police knew the tampering had occurred after production. The company has contacted other retailers who carry that product and has issued a recall of doughs sold anywhere, including Shaws, Big Y and Star Market, a spokesman said.

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