Former CEO Knowingly Shipped Salmonella-Contaminated Peanut Butter, may Face Life in Prison

Former CEO Knowingly Shipped Salmonella-Contaminated Peanut Butter, may Face Life in Prison
Food Safety Contamination

Later today, Stewart Parnell, former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) could find out that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. If convicted, Parnell could be the first person involved in a food poisoning outbreak to ever receive such a harsh sentence.

Parnell was convicted on September 19, 2014, of knowingly shipping peanut butter contaminated with salmonella from a PCA plant in Blakely, Georgia, to Kellogg’s and other customers who put the ingredient in everything from crackers to pet food.

Former employees reported filthy conditions at the Georgia plant, where investigators found disgusting and unsanitary conditions at the plant, including the presence of roaches, rodents, mold, and a leaking roof near the production area. [1] [2]

Parnell and his brother, Michael Parnell, were found guilty of faking results of lab tests designed to screen for the pathogen.

Federal investigators uncovered emails and records confirming the presence of salmonella in the food and showing that the products were shipped anyway. Other batches were never even tested, but were sent alongside bogus lab results saying the peanut butter had tested negative for salmonella.

In all, Parnell was convicted of 76 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice and other offenses. He now faces a possible prison sentence of 9,636 months – 803 years – behind bars.

The outbreak was one of the biggest in the United States in recent years, sickening 714 people in 46 states, half of them children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the tainted peanut butter killed 9 people between 2008 and 2009, though health officials were never able to prove that each death was caused by the bacteria-laced peanut butter. [3]

Parnell’s defense team says he was only “doing exactly what the rest of peanut industry was doing at the time.”

“Neither he nor the peanut industry appreciated the significant problems that salmonella could cause. There is no way he believed for a moment that his product was harmful,” said Ken Hodges, an attorney for Parnell.

Hodges went on to say:

“Stewart has been punished — he’s lost everything he’s ever built, he’s unemployable and he can’t provide for his family. I am sorry that people got sick from his peanut butter and died from his peanut butter. And he is too. He’s felt regret for a long time.”

Parnell and his wife recently put their Lynchburg, Virginia, home up for sale, which they’ve had for more than 30 years, for $699,000.

Additional Sources:

[1] CNN (Featured image courtesy of CNN)

[2] WSET

[3] Time