Special to the Enterprise
The Rich Products facility in Waycross has not manufactured any products since March, when it was linked to a national E. coli outbreak.
When asked whether the facility may close permanently, company spokesman Dwight M. Gram said it was “too early to speculate” on when, or if, the plant might reopen.
“We’re doing everything we can to hopefully get that facility back up and running as soon as we can, but food safety is our No. 1 priority, and that takes precedence over everything else,” Gram said.
Rich has been conducting an investigation into the source of the E. coli that ended up in some of its Farm Rich products. It has been doing test runs of products as it tries to figure out what went wrong. None of that product will be sold for consumption. “At this point in the process, we may never know for certain what caused the contamination,” Gram said. “We’re looking at different manufacturing processes to safeguard food safety.”
About 40 of the Georgia plant’s 70 workers have been furloughed as the company works on the situation. The employees who remain work in the company’s marketing, quality assurance and research and development departments. Production of the food items made at the facility has stopped and has not been shifted to any other facility.
The Georgia plant made the company’s “dough-enrobed” foods, such as stuffed pizza slices, which consist of a filling surrounded by dough. Those products make up about 15 percent of Rich’s total Farm Rich portfolio.
In February, Rich Products announced it would invest $11 million in the plant, expanding its footprint, upgrading production lines and replacing old equipment with new technology. That project was never implemented and has been put on hold until the future of the plant is decided, Gram said.