According to Reuters, four years after a Salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut butter sickened hundreds in the United States and killed nine, authorities have charged the former owner of the company and several employees with fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors on Feb. 21 alleged the group covered up the presence of Salmonella in its peanut products for years, going so far as to create fake certificates showing the products were uncontaminated even when laboratory results showed the reverse. The charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail, although none carry a mandatory minimum sentence, prosecutors said.
The peanut scandal led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history and forced Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), the manufacturer, into liquidation. Former owner Stewart Parnell is among those charged, as is his brother, Michael Parnell, a food broker at P.P. Sales who worked on behalf of the peanut company.
William Marler, an attorney who represented victims of the contamination, said the indictments will have a far reaching impact on the food industry. “Corporate executives and directors of food safety will need to think hard about the safety of their product when it enters the stream of commerce,” he said. “Felony counts like this one are rare, but misdemeanor charges that can include fines and jail time can and should happen.”
In addition to the Parnells, charges were also levied against Samuel Lightsey, a former Operations Manager at the plant, and Mary Wilkerson, who held various positions including Receptionist, Office Manager, and Quality Assurance Manager. Another employee, Daniel Kilgore, has pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud and to the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. He waived an official indictment.