Customers line up at the Hannaford supermarket in Bridgton in this April 2020 file photo. Hannaford might have violated Maine food regulations when it failed to immediately report razor blades and other metal pieces had been found in pizza dough from its Sanford store back in August. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

Hannaford might have violated Maine food regulations when it failed to immediately report razor blades and other metal pieces had been found in pizza dough from its Sanford store back in August.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry only learned of the dough tampering on Oct. 14, a week after more blades and metal shards were found in dough sold in a Saco store this month, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“The first call should have been to us,” Celeste Poulin, director of quality assurance and regulations at the department, told the Press Herald on Wednesday. “We should have been notified pretty much immediately, but we were not.”

That delay could be a violation of the Maine Food Code that requires licensed grocers to report imminent health hazards immediately. The agriculture department is among several agencies investigating reports of metal shards found in Portland Pie Co. pizza dough sold in Hannaford stores.

The dough tampering first surfaced in August when AdriAnne Cole Curtis of Sanford was preparing dinner with her daughter and found sharp metal shards sticking out of the pizza dough package she bought days earlier. Curtis returned the dough to the Hannaford store manager in Sanford.

“[The manager] said that another customer had found a similar object in the dough and that the blade didn’t match the ones on the utility knives the Hannaford employees use,” Curtis told the BDN last week.

Hannaford has blamed the failure to report the tampering back in August on an email issue. The company said that the Sanford store reported the tampering, but it wasn’t referred up the chain of command. Maine’s largest grocery chain apologized and said the issue has been corrected.

Hannaford hasn’t said how many products were tampered with or why the Sanford store never followed up with management after their report went unanswered.

Nicholas Mitchell, 38, has been arrested for allegedly tampering with the products. He was an employee at It’ll Be Pizza, which prepares branded dough balls under Portland Pie Co. brand at retail locations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Mitchell apparently did not tamper with the dough during his work at It’ll Be Pizza, but posed as a Hannaford customer and inserted the razor blades and other metal objects into the dough at several stores, according to police.

It’ll Be Pizza, Sanford police and the agriculture department said they were not aware of the tampering until Saco police went public about the tampering earlier this month, according to the Press Herald. It’ll Be Pizza told the Press Herald it would have brought Mitchell to the attention of police had the company been notified sooner.

Federal agencies typically oversee the nation’s food production system, but not retail food sales. Had Mitchell tampered with the dough at It’ll Be Pizza, then the case would be under federal jurisdiction, but as he allegedly did so in a grocery store, it should fall to state authorities to investigate.

Authorities have been debating which organization is ultimately responsible for the investigation, but on Wednesday, Poulin, the agriculture department supervisor in charge of quality assurance, told the Press Herald that the Maine Food Code requires Hannaford and other food retailers to immediately report any tampering to the same inspectors who do establishment inspections and license reviews.

Despite saying last week that it had no involvement in the case, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday sent officials to meet with Saco authorities to discuss the tampering, Saco Deputy Police Chief Corey Huntress told the Press Herald.