Hannaford supermarkets blamed a technology error for the company’s failure to inform consumers and police in August after it received a report of razor blades found in fresh pizza dough at a store in Sanford.

Reports of sharp metal in Portland Pie Co. brand pizza dough at Hannaford’s Sanford store in August weren’t revealed by police until Tuesday, more than a week after nearly identical incidents at the Saco store triggered a recall and a police investigation. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The company apologized to consumers in a written statement issued Wednesday morning citing the technical problem. Hannaford, however, would not fully explain what went wrong with its internal system for tracking and acting on consumer product safety problems or respond to requests for more information.

The supermarket chain also has refused to provide details about how many products were affected and how many were sold during the period subject to recall. Hannaford has said it is deferring to police to decide what information should be shared.

The reports of sharp metal in Portland Pie Co. brand pizza dough at the Sanford store in August were first revealed by police on Tuesday in response to questions from the Portland Press Herald, more than a week after nearly identical incidents at the Saco store immediately triggered a limited single-store recall and a police investigation. Sanford police were first notified on Sunday, when Hannaford also expanded its recall to all stores.

Two customers reported finding a razor blade or a razor blade fragment inside the fresh dough purchased at the Sanford store on Aug. 14. One customer returned a ball of dough with a razor blade still inside, while the other customer returned just the blade fragment, Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly said Tuesday.

AdriAnne Cole Curtis, a 33-year-old teacher from Sanford, said she was the customer who brought back the blade fragment.

Curtis said she bought pizza dough at the Hannaford in Sanford on Aug. 14, but didn’t try to use it until three days later. By then, the dough had expanded a bit and a piece of metal was sticking out of the plastic packaging.

Assuming the piece of razor blade she pulled out was from a manufacturing mistake, she tossed the dough in the trash and set aside the piece of metal until her next trip to the store.

Curtis brought the razor blade to Hannaford on Aug. 20 and a manager told her it did not appear to be from the type of utility knives Hannaford employees use.

AdriAnne Cole Curtis, with her 2-year-old daughter, Ivy, on Wednesday, is one of the Hannaford customers who bought pizza dough containing razor blades or razor blade fragments. She brought the razor blade she found back to Hannaford’s Sanford store on Aug. 20, six days after she bought the dough. She didn’t suspect any malicious tampering until Oct. 7, when her husband read a news story about tampering with pizza dough at the Hannaford in Saco.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“She told me they already reached out to the company that week because I was the second customer who found dough with an object in it,” Curtis said.

It’s not clear whom the store manager may have notified. It’ll Be Pizza in Scarborough, which manufactures the dough sold under the Portland Pie Co. brand, said it was not notified at that time.

“The first IBP heard about any problem with razor blades was on Oct. 6, when they were contacted by Hannaford,” said Mark Robinson, a spokesman for the company. By that time, it was clear the objects were inserted into the dough inside the supermarket and were not a production-related issue, he said.

Hannaford said an internal report was made, but it did not reach corporate management.

Curtis didn’t think the razor blade incident might be a case of malicious tampering until Oct. 7, when her husband came across a news story about tampering with Portland Pie Co. pizza dough at the Hannaford in Saco. She said she called Saco police that day to tell them about her experience in August.

That was several days before Hannaford said it reported the August incidents to police in Sanford.

Curtis, who was interviewed by a Sanford police detective this week, said she was satisfied with the way her local store handled the incident, but was upset to hear there were communication issues at the company and that there were further incidents at other stores.

Curtis’s 2-year-old daughter, Ivy, was shaken by the experience of finding the metal in the pizza dough and didn’t sleep well for a week, Curtis said. The family watched YouTube videos of how pizza dough is made because Ivy kept asking how a razor blade could get in pizza dough, she said.

“It was really upsetting for my daughter at the time. It’s more upsetting for me and my husband now to hear that it was something malicious and not just a mistake like we originally thought,” she said.

Hannaford initiated a recall on Oct. 5  of fresh pizza dough sold at its store in Saco after two customers there reported finding razor blades in their pizza dough. The company expanded the recall on Sunday after it said it learned about the earlier incidents in Sanford.

Hannaford said Tuesday that it was improving internal policies and procedures to ensure that any future incident is passed up the corporate chain. It said the returned pizza dough was reported properly within the store, but there was a breakdown in the process for bringing the matter to the attention of upper level management.

On Wednesday it said it had identified a technological problem.

“As part of the recall process, we learned about a notification error in our reporting system – a failure within our email system that prevented reports made in August of metal in Portland Pie products from being elevated appropriately within our company beyond store level,” said Ericka Dodge, spokeswoman for the grocery chain.

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

It was not clear whether the same technology was used successfully in Saco, or if employees there notified the company in a different way. And it’s not clear whether Sanford employees tried to report the incident in other ways when there was no response for two months.

Hannaford said it called Sanford police about the August incident on Sunday when it realized the issue had not been properly reported at the time.

Charged in the incident is Nicholas R. Mitchell, 38, a former employee of It’ll Be Pizza, the company that produces the fresh doughs under the Portland Pie Co. brand and other names. Mitchell drove a forklift at the pizza company’s Scarborough warehouse, but was fired after he failed to show up for work too many times, according to a police affidavit filed in York Superior Court.

Saco police plan to charge Mitchell with two felonies: aggravated reckless conduct, and felony-level violating the conditions of his release by possessing a dangerous weapon, a razor blade. His probation officer also took steps to revoke Mitchell’s probation. He could be transported back to Maine as early as Friday from Dover, New Hampshire, where he as arrested on a fugitive from justice warrant.

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