ConAgra Subsidiary Sentenced For Distributing Contaminated Peanut Butter 10 Years Ago

Image courtesy of Denise Krebs

The Great Peanut Butter Recall of 2007 affected peanut butter sold under the Peter Pan and Great Value brands. The company pleaded guilty to criminal charges of the introduction into interstate commerce of adulterated food, and has finally been sentenced. As announced last year, it must pay an $8 million fine and forfeit more than $3 million in assets.

That’s the company itself, not any of its executives or employees. Since you can’t throw businesses in prison, that’s how you punish them. Still, it’s a record-breaking fine in a food safety case, and now it’s final: the subsidiary responsible for the contaminated peanut butter, ConAgra Grocery Products, has pleaded guilty [PDF] to distributing peanut butter that it knew might be contaminated.

The Food and Drug Administration later admitted that it knew the facility had possible salmonella problems dating back to 2005, but lacked the funding that it would have needed to send more inspectors out to trace the problem. instead, the agency did nothing, and Salmonella reached customers a few years later.

“This case demonstrates companies – both large and small – must be vigilant about food safety,” the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a statement released with the announcement of the company’s sentencing. “We rely every day on food processors and handlers to meet the high standards required to keep our food free of harmful contamination.”

This is not to be confused with the Great Peanut Butter Outbreak of 2008-2009, which caused more than 700 cases of salmonellosis illness and nine confirmed deaths. In that case, executives of the company behind the peanut butters were sentenced to decades in prison for knowingly sending contaminated peanut butter to its clients.