by Marion Nestle

Search results: peanut butter corporation

Jul 29 2015

Court asks for life in prison in peanut butter Salmonella case

Federal court officers are recommending what attorneys are calling an “unprecedented” sentence of life in prison for a Stewart Parnell, the former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America.  He was convicted last fall of selling bulk peanut butter from his plant in Georgia to food processors—even after the peanut butter tested positive for Salmonella.

The CDC associated the tainted peanuts with the deaths of 9 people and illnesses among more than 700.

The government’s sentencing recommendations say:

The Government submits that the U.S. Probation Office correctly calculated the Sentencing Guidelines adjusted offense level for Stewart Parnell to be 47 with criminal history category I, which results in a life sentence Guidelines range; for Michael Parnell, to be adjusted offense level 37 with criminal history category I, which results in a 210 to 262 months Guidelines range; and for Wilkerson to be adjusted offense level 30 with a criminal history of I, which results in a 97 to 121 months Guidelines range.

Does the punishment fit the crime?  Bill Marler’s discusses of the legal issues related to this conviction as opposed to the results of similar cases.  Marler is usually unsympathetic to owners of companies producing foods that kill people, but in this instance he says:

I find it a bit hard to parse out why some have been targeted – OK, perhaps the Parnell prosecution is a bit easier because it was so clearly intentional – and some have not, or at least not yet.  Honestly, what are the differences in prosecuting the Jensens, DeCosters and ConAgra and leaving the others – so far – unmolested…Is it the number of sick, the number of dead? Is it the economic consequences? What really are the criteria, or, should it simply be left to the discretion of the prosecutor as to who or what feels the sting of the criminal justice system?

Jul 9 2014

Annals of food law: Peanut Corporation of America

OK, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) are getting their day in court, accompanied by an aggressive legal defense.

According to Food Safety News, PCA’s lawyers are claiming that the government’s requests for disclosure documents are so egregious that the case should be dismissed.

Here’s a comment on the case from Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics:

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Irony alert: “egregious” is precisely the word I used to describe PCA’s actions related to its Salmonella problems more than a year ago:

I’ve been following this particular food safety tragedy for several years now.  The offenses were so egregious—officials blatantly ignored positive tests for Salmonella, for example—that some kind of punishment seemed warranted.

According to the account in USA Today:

The indictment alleges that PCA officials affirmatively lied to their customers about the presence of salmonella in PCA’s products,” said Stuart Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Delery also said some officials at PCA, no longer in business, fabricated lab results certifying to customers that the products were salmonella free “even when tests showed the presence of salmonella or when no tests had been done at all.”

If you would like to catch up on this endlessly fascinating case, in which contaminated peanut butter made 714 people in 46 states sick, here’s Food Safety News’ year-old timeline of its events.

Feb 21 2013

Grand jury indicts Peanut Corporation of America officials

The wheels of justice really do grind slow, but they sometimes do grind.  A federal grand jury has indicted four officials of the Peanut Butter Corporation of America for “conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and others offenses related to contaminated or misbranded food.”

Translation: Salmonella that sickened more than 500 people and killed at least 8.

The documents in the case have just been unsealed:

I’ve been following this particular food safety tragedy for several years now.  The offenses were so egregious—officials blatantly ignored positive tests for Salmonella, for example—that some kind of punishment seemed warranted.

According to the account in USA Today:

The indictment alleges that PCA officials affirmatively lied to their customers about the presence of salmonella in PCA’s products,” said Stuart Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Delery also said some officials at PCA, no longer in business, fabricated lab results certifying to customers that the products were salmonella free “even when tests showed the presence of salmonella or when no tests had been done at all.”

As lawyer Bill Marler writes,

These indictments will have a far reaching impact on the food industry.  Corporate executives and directors of food safety will need to think hard about the safety of their product when it enters the stream of commerce.  Felony counts like this one are rare, but misdemeanor charges that can include fines AND jail time can and should happen.

Is this a sign that courts might be taking food safety problems more seriously?  If so, it’s about time.

Addition, February 22:  Food Safety News has a handy timeline of the Peanut Corporation events.

Mar 10 2009

How expensive are the peanut butter recalls?

Bill Marler, the lawyer whose specialty is helping clients obtain compensation for food poisonings, knows as much about food safety – or the lack thereof – as anyone I know.  He estimates the total cost of the peanut butter recalls as close to $1 billion.  This accounts for the costs of the recalls themselves ($75 million to Kellogg alone), as well as the costs of lost sales, advertising and public relations, and stock prices.  And that’s just to the companies.  Perhaps he will do another estimate for the 677 people (as of March 1) who are known to have become ill as a result.

In the meantime, the fact that Peanut Corporation of America filed for bankruptcy is unlikely to affect victims’ ability to collect damages.  Much of those costs will be covered by insurance.

I guess food companies think it’s cheaper to do things this way than to produce safe food in the first place.  That, of course, is why we need better federal oversight, and the sooner the better.

Guidance alert, just in: the FDA has issued after-the-fact advice to the industry about how to produce peanuts safely.

Update March 12: Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, polled readers about the recalls.  All knew about them and most were not buying recalled products.  But 45% said they had stopped buying peanut butter, even though regular peanut butter was not involved in the recalls.

Feb 13 2009

Clever move: Peanut Corp goes bankrupt

The peanut butter story gets more sordid by the minute.  Peanut Corporation of America, owner of the Georgia plant that shipped peanut butter laced with Salmonella, has gone belly up.    By filing for bankruptcy, it gets to avoid claims and class action suits related to the illnesses and deaths caused by the tainted peanut butter.  Check out what Consumers Union has to say about this ploy.

Feb 9 2009

The never-ending peanut butter scandal continues

The New York Times today has a long investigative report on its front page about the implications of the peanut butter recalls for food safety in America.  It’s a terrific article and it’s wonderful that the Times has at last discovered that the U.S. food safety system is deeply dysfunctional, something the Government Accountability Office has been screaming about for years.

In the meantime, the list of company recalls keeps getting longer (the FDA website identifies them with a bright red NEW!  Safe Tables Our Priority, a group devoted to protecting children from unsafe food, publishes a daily list of individually recalled peanut butter products.  Today’s collection alone numbers nearly 40 and is well worth a look.  So are the CDC’s cute reminders to throw out your recalled products.

And I can’t resist adding a comment on peanut politics.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Integrity in Science Watch sends out daily feeds.  Today’s (not yet posted) refers to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution revealing that the USDA, not the FDA, is responsible for the safety of exported peanuts (they might contain aflatoxin), that its Peanut Standards Board was exempted from conflict -of-interest rules by the 2002 Farm Bill, and that the head of Peanut Corporation of America, the company responsible for the tainted peanut butter, was appointed in October as a member of that Board until 2011.

What more evidence do we need that an overhaul of the food safety system is very much in order.  Congress: this is your problem to solve!  Citizens: write your congressional representatives!

Jan 29 2009

Latest chapter in peanut butter saga

The CDC reports more than 500 cases and 8 deaths from Salmonella typimurium in peanut butter produced at a single plant in Georgia owned by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).

Fortunately, the number of reported cases is going down.FDA officials reveal that the PCA plant has a history of knowingly shipping peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella. But these incidents did not involve the same strain.

The peanut industry says this is one bad peanut and everyone else’s peanuts are OK.

I say (again and again): Peanuts are not kcovered by standard food safety regulations (voluntary Good Manufacturing Practices demonstrably do not work).  We need HACCP food safety regulations – with Pathogen Reduction –  for all foods, from farm to table.

January 30 update: Apparently, the New York Times editorial staff agrees with me!  And no wonder, given what their reporters are saying about ithis incident.

Jan 26 2009

Peanut butter and pet foods

One more thing about the peanut butter recalls; they affect pet foods.  I can’t help saying it, but I did say that pet foods matter (and thanks to OrangeCloud for reminding me).  One of the points of Pet Food Politics was to demonstrate that the food supplies for pets, farm animals, and people are one and the same and cannot be separated.  If a safety problem affects pet foods, you can be sure that the same kind of problem will affect people food.  Examples: melamine in Chinese infant formula, and now peanut butter.

Lots of pet foods, especially treats, contain peanut butter and guess where that peanut butter comes from?  It comes from the same plant in Georgia that sends peanut butter everywhere else. Here are the recalled pet foods, so far:

Avanza Supermarket
Econofoods (Excluding Wisconsin stores in Sturgeon Bay, Clintonville, Marquette, Holton and Iron Mou
Family Fresh Market
Family Thrift Center
Food Bonanza
Grreat Choice
Pick’n Save (Ohio stores in Van Wert and Ironton only)
Prairie Market
SunMart Foods
Wholesale Food Outlet

Recalled pet food ingredients: Peanut Corporation of America or Parnell’s Pride