On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America, and several former employees for covering up the presence of salmonella in its products for years. The worst outbreak occurred about four years ago when the company’s peanut butter made hundreds of consumers ill and caused the death of nine. No statistics is available about consumers in other countries, or isolated incidents over years.
The mass salmonella outbreak compelled Peanut Corporation of America to go into liquidation.
Federal prosecutors alleged that presence of salmonella in the products of the group had been covered for years with full knowledge, and the company had gone to the lengths of submitting fake certificates showing the food as contamination-free, when laboratory reports showed otherwise.
In an official statement, Stuart Delery, head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Division said, “When those responsible for producing or supplying our food lie and cut corners, as alleged in the indictment, they put all of us at risk.”
Parnell’s lawyers, Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore LLP, issued a statement expressing their disappointment over the government’s decision to pursue an indictment and that they would put up a vigorous defense. The law firm asserted in its statement that, “while Mr. Parnell and others associated with PCA have to date remained silent on the circumstances surrounding the government’s salmonella investigation, as this matter progresses it will become clear that Mr. Parnell never intentionally shipped or caused to be shipped any tainted food products capable of harming PCA’s customers.”
The difference between murder and manslaughter is the absence of mens rea.
The law firm’s statement also questioned the role of U.S. health regulators who had been in regular contact with PCA and aware of the company’s salmonella testing protocols – and the fact that regulators had never made any objection to the company’s testing policies or protocols.
However, the DOJ’s head of the Civil Division, Delery, said in a press conference that PCA officials had outright lied to inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He said the DOJ would do everything possible “to protect Americans who have done nothing more than eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Delery did not comment upon what the said officials had been doing to protect the American public, when, according to his statement, they had found PCA producing peanuts under unsanitary conditions and had failed to prevent the entry of rodents and insects in its plant in Blakely, Georgia.
Victims of the outbreak welcomed the 76- count indictment, including those who had lost their near and dear ones.