Last month, a jury in Georgia convicted a former peanut company executive of conspiracy and fraud charges in a case stemming from a deadly salmonella outbreak between 2007 and 2009. As a result of the outbreak, nine people died, and more than 700 others became ill. The verdict marks the first federal felony conviction for a company executive in a food safety case. The jury’s verdict came after a several week long trial for Stewart Parnell, the president of Peanut Corp. Mr. Parnell was charged with 76 federal counts linked to intentionally shipping salmonella-laced peanut products. Prosecutors presented thousands of documents and called nearly 50 witnesses to show that Parnell and others ignored safety in order to increase profits. Among other things, Mr. Parnell and Co. allegedly hid results that their peanut products tested positive for salmonella.
Perhaps the most damning evidence at the trial was a 2007 email from Mr. Parnell to a plant manager regarding the safety of the tainted products. In response to concerns from the manager over the tainted products, Mr. Parnell replied: “Just ship it.” This verdict is not insignificant, as it comes in the midst of a new focus by the Department of Justice on food safety cases brought under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Last year, the owners of a cantaloupe farm pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to a listeria outbreak. Earlier in this year, federal prosecutors filed charges against the executives at an egg company linked to a 2010 salmonella outbreak.
Mr. Parnell and the others convicted now await sentencing.