Family Dollar fined $41.675M by DOJ over rodent-infested warehouse

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Family Dollar has been fined a record $41.675 million for distributing food, drugs, medical devices and cosmetics in unsanitary conditions, federal officials said on Monday.

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The value-store chain was hit with the largest financial criminal penalty in a food safety case, The New York Times reported.

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Family Dollar Stores LLC pleaded guilty on Monday in a federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a misdemeanor count of “causing FDA-regulated products to become adulterated while being held under insanitary conditions.”

The plea was in connection to a rodent infestation at the company’s warehouse in West Memphis, Arkansas, the release stated.

According to court documents, the distribution center serviced 404 Family Dollar stores in Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, the Times reported.

The penalty is estimated to be the value of the products that were tainted while stored in the warehouse, according to the newspaper.

Family Dollar has 8,000 stores across 46 states and was bought by rival Dollar Tree in 2015, NBC News reported.

As part of the plea agreement, both Family Dollar Stores and Dollar Tree must meet “robust” corporate reporting guidelines for the next three years, according to the news outlet.

Family Dollar temporarily closed stores for a few weeks in 2022 due to the infestation, the Times reported. All of those stores have reopened, Kristin Tetreault, a spokesperson for Dollar Tree, told the newspaper.

According to the plea agreement, rats had “established a presence” at the warehouse in July 2021. Court documents stated that the rodents used an abandoned conveyor system to run unhindered throughout the building.

“When consumers go to the store, they have the right to expect that the food and drugs on the shelves have been kept in clean, uncontaminated conditions,” Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said in a statement. “When companies violate that trust and the laws designed to keep consumers safe, the public should rest assured: The Justice Department will hold those companies accountable.”

An employee filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to the Times. In August 2021, one of the company’s regional regulatory compliance specialists called the rodent problem “very noticeable.”

According to the Department of Justice, Family Dollar continued shipping goods from the warehouse until January 2022. That was when inspectors from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration “discovered live rodents, dead and decaying rodents, rodent feces, urine, and odors, and evidence of gnawing and nesting throughout the facility.”

All food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices that were delivered from the warehouse were recalled on Feb. 18, 2022, NBC News reported.

“It is incomprehensible that Family Dollar knew about the rodent and pest issues at its distribution center in Arkansas but continued to ship products that were unsafe and” unsanitary, Jonathan D. Ross, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said in a statement. “Knowingly selling these types of products not only places the public’s health at risk but erodes the trust consumers have in the products they purchase.”