Following the deaths of nine people and hundreds others who were sickened by the salmonella outbreak, the former owner of a peanut company in Georgia was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Stewart Parnell, former owner of Peanut Corporation of America, and his brother, Michael Parnell, a former food broker on the company’s behalf, were convicted in September 2014 on charges of knowingly transporting salmonella-tainted peanuts to customers. According to CNBC, Stewart sold these peanuts from his Georgia plant and created fake certificates wherein he manipulated results from laboratory tests that screened for salmonella. The damages incurred by Stewart’s customers in the outbreak amounted to $144 million. Around 714 people fell ill.
Michael was given 20 years in prison. Mary Wilkerson, a former quality control manager at the plant who was convicted for obstruction of justice, was given a five-year prison sentence.
Jeff Almer’s mother, Shirley Almer, was one of the victims who fell ill after consuming tainted peanut butter in 2009. “My mother died a painful death from salmonella, and the look of horror on her face as she died shall always haunt me,” Jeff said, as reported by Reuters. “I just hope they ship you all to jail.”
The case was prosecuted by the office of U.S. Attorney Michael Moore of Georgia’s Middle District, who said it was “a landmark with implications that will resonate not just in the food industry but in corporate boardrooms across the country.” Of the 714 people who fell ill across 46 states, 166 were hospitalized. Each year, salmonella causes 19,000 hospital admissions and 380 deaths, according to the CDC. The symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
Also read: Cucumbers Subject To Recall Due To Salmonella As CDC Reports Outbreak In 27 States, One Death Reported
The Parnells, however, denied knowingly supplying salmonella tainted products. “No one thought that the products were unsafe or could harm someone,” Stewart’s daughter, Grey Parnell, said. “Dad brought them home to us. We all ate it.” Tom Bondurant, representing Stewart, said 28 years in prison will be equivalent to life imprisonment for his client. Bondurant plans to appeal the decision. “If you compare it with other food-safety criminal cases, it’s tremendously out of line,” he said, as reported by Al Jazeera America.
Peanut butter and products shipped from Stewart’s plant were used by customers in foods from snack crackers to pet food. A large food recall was prompted as a result of the salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009.
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