Criminal Justice

Four peanut company managers are charged in salmonella outbreak; charges include lying to FDA

The former owner of Peanut Corp. of America and three ex-managers at the defunct company have been charged in connection with a 2009 salmonella outbreak that caused nine deaths.

Prosecutors say corporate officials failed to tell customers about lab tests that found the presence of salmonella and lied to or misled inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration, report the National Law Journal, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

According to the Wall Street Journal, corporate managers rarely face criminal charges in food poisoning cases. The government, however, may be taking a more aggressive approach as it conducts at least two other investigations into salmonella outbreaks.

In the Peanut Corp. case, company owner Stewart Parnell, food broker Michael Parnell and plant manager Samuel Lightsey were charged on Thursday with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce. Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson were charged with obstruction of justice for their statements to FDA investigators about the scope of testing and the results.

Stewart Parnell’s lawyers promised to prepare for a vigorous defense, saying the evidence will show he never intentionally shipped tainted products capable of harming consumers. “There is little doubt that as the facts in this case are revealed, it will become apparent that the FDA was in regular contact with [Peanut Corporation of America] about its food handling policy and was well aware of its salmonella testing protocols,” the lawyers said in a statement.

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