Man to Plead Guilty to Food Tampering at Hannaford

A man who was arrested last year for putting razor blades and screws in pizza dough sold at Hannaford Supermarkets stores will plead guilty to a federal crime, according to a published report.

The Portland, Maine, Press Herald reported that a federal grand jury had indicted Nicholas R. Mitchell last March on two counts of tampering with a consumer product, and that Mitchell has now agreed to plead guilty to one of those counts and accept a sentence of up to four years and nine months in prison. The penalty for the charge could be as much as 10 years. A formal plea hearing is slated for June 24, while there’s no date as yet for the sentencing hearing. 

Mitchell was taken into custody last October after police in Saco, Sanford and Dover, N.H., began looking into reports that customers had discovered razor blades and metal fragments in Portland Pie Co. pizza dough carried by Hannaford. There were no reports of injuries or illnesses from the alleged tampering. 

Hannaford and Portland Pie Co. both admitted that they had earlier received reports of tampering but hadn’t notified customers, police or health officials at that time. The retailer attributed this lapse to a technological fault in its reporting system.

It’s a federal crime to tamper with food in a way that affects interstate commerce, even if no one is injured as a result. However, the government will request certain sentencing reductions because of Mitchell’s agreement to plead guilty.

Mitchell had been a forklift operator at It’ll Be Pizza, a Scarborough, Maine-based company that manufactures pizza dough to be sold in Hannaford and other grocery stores, until he was fired last summer. The first reports of food tampering emerged a few months after that.

When the contaminated dough was found at the Saco store last October, Hannaford issued a product recall for all Portland Pie dough and cheese products sold at its 184 stores in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The recall was later expanded to Hannaford’s sister banners Shaw’s and Star Market in five states.

Scarborough-based Hannaford operates 183 stores in five Northeast states, employing more than 26,000 associates. Parent company Ahold Delhaize USA, a division of Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, is No. 10 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America