Former Peanut Butter Moguls Found Guilty Of Knowingly Shipping Contaminated Food

Remember the massive outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter? No, not the one earlier this year, or the one in 2012, or the one in 2007. We mean the one in 2008, where peanut butter shipped from the Peanut Corporation of America was linked to more than 700 illnesses and nine known deaths. Five years after the company’s cartoonish terribleness was revealed, three executives were put on trial for knowingly distributing contaminated food to the American public.

And when we say “contaminated,” we mean “scooping up peanuts from the floor” contaminated. Back in January of 2009, it was easier for us to share a list of all of the peanut butter products that were known to not contain any potentially contaminated peanut butter.

Accidentally distributing a bunch of contaminated food isn’t a crime, but that’s not what the Peanut Corporation of America was accused of. Three executives were charged with actual federal crimes: the former owner, Stewart Parnell; his brother and the company’s food broker, Michael Parnell; and the plant’s former quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson. The Parnell brothers were both found guilty on multiple counts; Wilkerson was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice. Other high-level PCA employees pleaded guilty, but testified against the defendants.

If you’re interested in an incredible level of detail about what went down in the trial, one of my favorite extremely specialized news sites, Food Safety News, had reporters there for all seven weeks of the trial. The site’s publisher, food safety attorney Bill Marler, represented some victims of the salmonella outbreak in their lawsuits against PCA.

The illnesses and deaths weren’t part of this federal trial: the Parnells were charged with conspiring to ship out contaminated peanut butter even though they knew it could potentially harm consumers. Knowingly shipping contaminated food is a crime.

Peanut company owner found guilty in deadly salmonella outbreak [CNN]
The Human Face of the PCA Salmonella Outbreak [Food Safety News]

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