Former peanut company CEO gets virtual life sentence in salmonella case
Stewart Parnell, the 61-year-old former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, was sentenced to 28 years in jail for charges that he and other executives at the company knowingly shipped peanut butter tainted with salmonella in 2008 and 2009. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tied the tainted peanut butter to 714 illnesses and nine deaths.
Mr. Parnell was convicted of 71 counts including the introduction of adulterated food, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Two codefendants, Michael Parnell, the plant’s manager, and Mary Wilkerson, a former quality control manager, were sentenced to 20 and five years respectively for their parts in the case.
Federal investigators discovered emails and company records that showed positive lab tests for salmonella. An on-site inspection of the Peanut Corporation of America’s facility in Blakely, GA found evidence of rats and roaches as well as a leaky roof, all known factors in the spread of salmonella. Some batches of peanuts were never tested and shipped with fake lab tests, according to prosecutors.
The punishment handed down against Mr. Parnell is the most severe in any food safety case in the U.S., according to the Justice Department.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – May, 2009
At his sentencing hearing, Mr. Parnell offered his first public words of apology for the harm done to the victims and their families in the case. Previously, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when he appeared before a congressional subcommittee and he did not take the stand in the case. Mr. Parnell’s lawyers attempted to block victims and their relatives from speaking before he was sentenced.
"This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I’m truly, truly sorry for what’s happened," he told victims and their relatives who were in the court.
According to the CDC, roughly one in six Americans (48 million) become ill through foodborne diseases every year. Of these, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Salmonella is the most common foodborne illness. Roughly 1.2 million people became ill as a result of ingesting foods tainted with salmonella in 2013 resulting in 450 deaths, according to government figures. The number of cases of salmonella poisoning decreased nine percent in 2013, but has been essentially flat going back to 2006.
- Convicted peanut CEO gets 28 years – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- Hard time? Peanut exec may get what others don’t – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- Former Peanut Corp. Exec Gets 28 Years For Role In Deadly Salmonella Outbreak – NPR
- Ex-Peanut Exec Sentenced to 28 Years in Salmonella-Peanut Butter Outbreak – The Associated Press/NBC Bay Area
- Peanut exec in salmonella case gets 28 years – USA Today
- Peanut company sentenced to 28 years for salmonella break – Reuters
- Burden of Foodborne Illness – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Do you think the criminal charges and sentence were appropriate in the case against Stewart Parnell? Will the conviction and prison sentences handed down against Mr. Parnell and his codefendants result in a safer food supply?