September 22, 2014. In one of the more egregious displays of criminal behavior in the food industry, 2 brothers, Steward Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, and Michael Parnell, the companies’ food broker, were found guilty in federal court in Albany, Georgia on Friday. Mary Wilkerson, the quality assurance manager at the Blakely plant in Georgia where the raw peanuts had been stored and processed, was found guilty of a lesser charge of obstructing justice. Two other employees involved, Samuel Lightsey, the former plant manager, and Daniel Kilgore, the former operations manager entered into plea agreements with prosecutors in exchange for lesser sentences.
In the Fall of 2008 and into 2009, federal health authorities scrambled to trace all the products contaminated from a relatively small peanut processing plant in Blakely, Georgia. Although the likely source of the salmonella poisoning had been correctly identified as the Blakely plant, more than 400 different food products were contaminated, and authorities were struggling to trace where the processed peanuts from this plant were distributed. More than 40 states were involved, the eventual tally resulted in 7 U.S. deaths, and more than 700 people sickened. The investigation revealed not only a pattern of unsanitary practices at the plant facility, and subsequent cover-ups, it also suggested deep flaws in the regulatory oversight process, and raised serious questions about the adequacy of previous plant inspections that had occurred during this period.
For those interested in learning more about this story, here’s a January 2009 post noting a teleconference between reporters and health officials trying to explain the special difficulties involved when a common ingredient is the source of contamination, and so many different food products are involved: FDA Expands Peanut Butter Products Recall In Latest Salmonella Scare
- Parnell Brothers Taken Into Custody After Convictions (Bill Marler, Food Safety News)
- Salmonella Was Found at Peanut Plant Before (NYT)