Charges have been filed against four employees of the peanut company linked to the massive salmonella outbreak of 2009 that killed nine people and sickened hundreds of others.
According to Yahoo! News, an indictment charges four former employees of Peanut Corporation of America with scheming to manufacture and ship tainted peanuts. The indictment names the company’s owner Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael Parnell (a food broker who worked with the company), and plant manager Samuel Lightsey with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead. Stewart Parnell, Samuel Lightsey, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson were also charged with obstruction of justice.
Criminal charges in a foodborne illness outbreak are rare because allegations of intentional corruption of food sources and the concealment of safety problems are often hard to prove. In most cases, food manufacturers will admit their mistakes and recall the product.
As the global marketplace expands, widespread outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, like the salmonella in peanuts and listeria in cantaloupe, are increasingly more common with the food products shipped around the world.
The Justice Department has said that it hopes that the charges will serve as a warning to other food manufacturers that consumer safety cannot be sacrificed in favor of higher profits.
According to this article, investigations are pending in connection with two other massive food poisoning outbreaks in recent years — an outbreak of salmonella in eggs in 2010 and an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in 2011 that was linked to more than 30 deaths.
Many foodborne illnesses are caused by tainted produce, and new food safety laws aimed at improving produce safety were recently implemented pursuant to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. The new laws propose stringent new standards for fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers that would require produce farmers to ensure that their crops are not contaminated with animal waste or tainted water. As a result of the new rules, some speculate that produce farmers will be urged to build fences around their crops to keep out animals and to provide adequate restrooms and hand-washing stations for their field workers.
The Chicago product liability attorneys at Ankin Law Offices, LLC are committed to product safety and consumer rights. Contact one of our Chicago food safety attorneys at (312) 600-0000 for more information on preventing foodborne illness and what to do if you fall victim to a foodborne illness as a result of contaminated food.