This week, a Georgia federal judge sent a powerful message to corporations that form part of the supply chain of food destined for America’s consumers. The lengthy sentences he handed down to a peanut company executive and his co-defendant brother were described as “unprecedented” by one attorney for plaintiffs who filed suit after a deadly salmonella outbreak.
The 61-year-old former chief executive officer received 28 years; his 56-year-old brother, who brokered sales of peanut paste to Kellogg’s, netted 20 years. A third defendant, 41, who was the quality control manager for the now-shuttered manufacturing plant, got five years for an obstruction conviction.
One year ago, jurors convicted the CEO of 71 felony counts that included introduction of adulterated food, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The sentencing caps the saga that began in January of 2009 when consumers all across the nation got sick with salmonella after consuming peanut products that originated at the Blakely, Georgia, peanut roasting plant. Nine deaths and 714 illnesses in residents of 46 states were tied to the outbreak by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
As a result of the contamination, one of the most massive food recalls in our country’s history was launched. The tainted products were used to make everything from pet food to crackers and peanut butter.
Investigators discovered rodent and roach infestations, as well as a leaking roof, at the facility. Those conditions became the perfect breeding ground for salmonella.
Company records and emails showed that products testing positive for the bacteria were shipped anyway. Additional batches weren’t tested, yet shipped with accompanying false laboratory results declaring them free of salmonella.
The judge also stated the trio bore economic responsibility for the victims’ losses. He ordered the brothers to surrender, denying their plea to stay out of prison while their appeals are pending, as they pose possible flight risks.
While this case sends a strong message, criminal convictions for defendants are unnecessary for plaintiffs to seek civil redress from manufacturers for tainted food products that cause illnesses and deaths.
Source: USA TODAY, “Peanut exec in salmonella case gets 28 years,” Kevin McCoy, Sep. 22, 2015