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Continuing investigation of outbreak means old records are sealed

Posted by: Alejandra Matos under Public records Updated: September 18, 2013 - 11:23 AM

After the outbreak of Salmonella that sickened over 80 people at an Ecuadorian independencefestival, the obvious question was whether there had been previous problems at New York Plaza Produce, the Minneapolis grocery store that was identified by health officials as the source of the outbreak and organizer of the festival.

Because New York Plaza Produce is a grocery store, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is the agency tasked with inspecting the store and following up on any complaints.

On Aug. 22, two days after our first report, I requested all inspection, incident and enforcement records prior to the outbreak. I knew any reports on the current investigation would be non-public, but was surprised when the Department of Agriculture said the information I request was non-public because it is now part of an open and active investigation.

"The documents you requested will be released to you once our investigation has been completed," said the department, noting they were allowed to classify the information as non-public under statute 13.39 sub 2.

I asked the state Information Policy Analysis Division if it was legal to classify previously public data as non-public simply because of an active investigation. Stacie Christensen with IPAD said it is legal, but noted the statute is a part of the law that is highly contested. 

I'll keep you posted on what happens with my request.

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