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Vandals Plunder $55K Worth of Pickles, Equipment

Police and state agriculture officials suspect diesel fuel was poured into vats holding 11,000 bushels of cucumbers.

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HOBGOOD, N.C. — Police are probing vandalism in which someone polluted pickle-production tanks with diesel fuel, ruining about $55,000 worth of food and equipment at Hobgood Produce and Farms.

This week an employee checking the vats in Hobgood, discovered something wrong, police said Friday.

“When I got there, I found that he had 11 of these vats that been contaminated with what appeared to be diesel fuel,” Hobgood Police Chief Joe Williams explained.

Williams said it appeared someone intentionally poured diesel fuel in with about 11,000 bushels of cucumbers in the processing tanks. He called in the FBI, State Bureau of Investigation and the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

Investigators say whoever contaminated the vats will face felony charges.

The department’s Food and Drug Protection Division is testing samples from nearly 200 containers. The company had to shut down for several days, though trucks began rolling again Friday.

Hobgood disposed of the contaminated pickles.

“We will not tolerate any product leaving that facility that we detect any level of chemical contamination,” said Joe Reardon director of the food protection division.

The company will have to throw away several wooden vats, but may be able to save some plastic ones, officials said.

Williams said he investigated a report that someone tampered with one of the diesel fuel tanks at the company three weeks ago, and officials are trying to determine if that was the fuel that ended up in with the cucumbers.

There had been no threats, and none of the contaminated food made it to store shelves, so the incident is considered serious vandalism for now.

“I don't think they had the intentions of contaminating the product that someone would eat,” Williams said.