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October 14, 2020

Police investigate tampering of Portland Pie Co. products at Hannaford Supermarkets

File Photo / Maureen Milliken Customers wait to enter the Hannaford supermarket on Whitten Road, Augusta. The Scarborough-based grocery chain has recalled Portland Pie Co. products sold at its 180-plus stores after reports of product tampering surfaced.

Hannaford Supermarkets has removed all Portland Pie Co. products from store shelves and recalled pizza dough and cheese sold under the company’s name, after a man allegedly inserted razor blades and metal fragments into the products at several Hannaford branches.

Nicholas R. Mitchell, 38, a former employee of the dough's Scarborough manufacturer, It’ll Be Pizza, was arrested over the weekend in Dover, N.H., in connection with alleged tampering at the supermarket in Saco, according to police reports. Mitchell may be extradited to York County Jail later this week.

The arrest came after customers reported tampered products, sold under the name of South Portland-based Portland Pie at Hannaford stores in Dover, Saco and Sanford. A spokeswoman for Scarborough-based Hannaford, Ericka Dodge, on Wednesday confirmed the incidents to Mainebiz.

Dodge also said reports of metal in the products were made as long ago as August, but that an email failure prevented the information “from being elevated appropriately within our company beyond store level.”

“This technological error does not meet our high standards, and we apologize that it occurred. We have addressed the IT issue and are adding additional reporting processes to ensure this situation never happens again.”

No injuries or illnesses have been reported in connection with the incidents, according to a statement from Hannaford. But “out of an abundance of caution,” the company has urged customers who purchased Portland Pie pizza dough and cheese sold in Hannaford store delis between Aug. 1 and Oct. 11 not to consume the products and to return them for refund.

The recall applies to all of Hannaford’s more than 180 stores across New England and New York, including the 65 locations in Maine. The removal of Portland Pie products from supermarket shelves will continue indefinitely, according to the statement.

At the supplier, It’ll Be Pizza, spokesman Mark Robinson told Mainebiz that Portland Pie items have also been recalled from Shaw’s and Star Market stores. The two sister supermarket chains, based in West Bridgewater, Mass., operate over 150 stores in New England including 21 Shaw's branches in Maine.

Robinson couldn’t say exactly what financial impact or product loss It’ll Be Pizza expects as a result of the recall. “All of the inventory has been recalled,” he said. “It was a substantial amount of product.”

“While in the short-term this is painful, because all the product had to be discarded, IBP is more concerned about the health and well-being of the general public, first and foremost. They’re also concerned about the employees — IBP feels they have a top-notch work force, and they want the employees to feel that they are secure.”

It'll Be Pizza sells about a half million cases of pizza dough each year, mostly in New England but also down the East Coast, according to Robinson. 

He said that Mitchell worked at It’ll Be Pizza for about a year until being terminated in June. “There were logical and very compelling reasons why Mr. Mitchell’s employment did not last more than 15 months,” he said, but did not provide more detail.

Both Hannaford and It’ll Be Pizza are cooperating with investigations by Saco police, who are serving as lead agency in the incidents.

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