A saga began in May 2008 when the DeGroot children became ill with ongoing diarrhea. Their parents, justifiably concerned, immediately began looking for the culprit.
What they found was surprising: strawberry-kiwi Dole fruit juice boxes that they had bought for their children’s lunches seemed to be the source of illness. At the time their children began having bouts of diarrhea, 12 of the juice boxes had been consumed.
It was then that they noticed several of the remaining boxes were leaking and smelled putrid.
Immediately, the DeGroots made the link in their minds between their children’s condition and the off-smelling juice–which also had a worm on the outside of one of the boxes–and called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The CFIA considered the complaint but ruled out the link between the children’s illness and the juice boxes because the stool sample results that their family doctor had run revealed that the parasite responsible for the children’s illness was dientamoeba fragilis, a nonflagellate trichomonad parasite that can live in the human large intestine but cannot live outside the human body for more than a 48-hour period.
Because the parasite cannot live outside the human body for more than two days, and the juice was consumed more than two days it was last in contact with humans, the CFIA concluded a fecal-oral route was the likely way the parasite had been transmitted. Consequently, the juice boxes were off the hook, at least for the moment.
When the children’s diarrhea continued, their grandfather, Bill Mason, put further pressure on the CFIA to do more testing.
Armed with additional evidence about the children’s condition, which would finally implicate food as the origin of contamination, he was able to convince the CFIA to complete further testing, and provided them with 6 additional juice boxes for further analysis.
The boxes failed the “leak-test”, and tests showed that there were levels of yeast, lactobacillus, and aerobic gram positive rods in the juice.
Subsequently, the CFIA ordered 2, 613 juice cases destroyed due to weakened seams of the juice boxes. Juice boxes with such integrity problems can be a fertile source for bacteria and yeast to multiply–and multiply they did.
Further investigation by CFIA revealed that the juice boxes had been handled improperly during distribution and that the juice box distribution systems either had low quality control of Standard Operation Procedures, or none in place at all.
CFIA documents about this incident reveal that the food production and distribution system, in terms of food safety, is far from perfect. Were it not for the determination of the DeGroot family and Bill Mason, this issue may not have been discovered nor revealed to the public.
Like other multinational food companies, Dole has a co-packing arrangement for its product. Dole now requires its subcontractors to report immediately any damaged products.
Ultimately, more than 100,000 Strawberry Kiwi Dole juice boxes were finally destroyed last year following the government investigation.