The Reason Dole Temporarily Halted Production Across The US

When we asked Tasting Table readers about their favorite brand of premade salad, Dole landed in first place. Some Dole fans might be disappointed, however, as CNN reported yesterday, February 22, 2023, in Clayton Ranch Market in New Mexico, shelves that ordinarily would be stocked with Dole's packaged salad kits were bare of some popular items. 

Jeff Russell, assistant produce manager, told CNN by phone that he was currently unable to source Dole Butter Bliss and Dole Chopped Sesame salads, though the items had been ordered from the wholesaler. Russell said that customers were upset, but he couldn't do much other than continue to place orders.  

Why have grocery stores been experiencing a shortage of some of their popular Dole items? The reason is part of a growing trend that poses a significant threat to food companies. CNN obtained a memo dated February 10 that Dole sent to its customers, explaining why the company had been forced briefly halt its operations, which include farms and four processing plants and employ 3,000 people across North America. 

A copy of the memo appears on the Facebook page for Stewart's Food Store, located in Olney, Texas, posted to address customer complaints. So what caused the company-wide shutdown?

Dole was the victim of a ransomware attack

On February 22, 2023, Dole plc publicly addressed the cyber attack in a brief press release, saying the company had "moved quickly to contain the threat and engaged leading third-party cybersecurity experts" to resolve issues and make their systems more secure. 

The press release added that the company had contacted law enforcement and continues to cooperate with the investigation. Dole spokesperson William Goldfield confirmed to CNN that the company had experienced a ransomware attack, which is the result of malware that encrypts data and systems, making them inaccessible. 

Ransomware attacks are typically followed by random demands in exchange for decryption, and food companies are just as vulnerable as other industries. Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, temporarily closed nearly 300 restaurants in the U.K. in January 2023, and in 2021. The world's largest meatpacking company, JBS Foods was forced to suspend operations at several locations worldwide due to a ransomware attack, affecting operations in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.  

Though Dole claimed the effects of the ransomware attack had been "limited," CNN's reports of ongoing shortages in retail stores suggest otherwise. As far as the cyber attack on Dole, the company spokesperson declined to answer CNN's questions about how long production remained offline and whether a ransom had been demanded, and neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Agriculture chose to comment.