It has been a decade since American consumers were sickened by batches of Peter Pan Peanut Butter. The peanut butter, which was contaminated with salmonella, was a controversial event and recently the company has pled guilty and agreed to pay the largest fine for a food safety case.
CBS reports that ConAgra’s subsidiary entered their guilty plea to a misdemeanor of shipping adulterated food. The judge approved the plea deal where prosecutors have fined the company $8 million plus they must pay $3.2 million in cash forfeitures.
The subsidiary of ConAgra Brands, Inc. agreed to pay the fine, but their larger corporation will absorb the costs, says the Wall Street Journal.
While the bigger company will take on the fine, it should serve as a lesson to all food manufacturers out there that the government does not tolerate tainted food.
About the Case
The case was in regards to the 2006 salmonella outbreak that had been traced back to Peter Pan Peanut Butter produced in the southwest Georgia plant, says NY Daily News.
The plea deal reached in 2016 came after an extensive criminal investigation into the subsidiary’s practices that led to a nationwide outbreak that sickened more than 625 people in over 47 states.
The disease had been traced back to the plant in Sylvester, Georgia, where they produced peanut butter under the Peter Pan label for ConAgra and the Great Value brand. In 2007, the company had a nationwide recall of their peanut butter products that had been sold since 2004. By then, most of the peanut butter products were already consumed.
The CEO of the company offered no testimony during the trial; instead, he only entered his guilty plea.
Why is the Company Criminally Liable?
Typically, food poisoning cases do not result in criminal charges, but in this case, ConAgra continued to distribute their peanut butter products after in-house testing concluded that salmonella contamination occurred in two separate laboratory samples.
The plea deal was struck more than 18 months ago, but the judge had to wait until all victims in the case could be reached and told of the arrangement.
It was initially the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found where the salmonella came from after physicians were reporting a heightened number of foodborne illness cases.
The Peter Pan brand vanished from stores for around six months until they distributed a safer batch.
Luckily, no deaths were associated with the outbreak, but the company’s negligence is a message to others out there that when tests conclude a foodborne contaminant, they must pull it from the shelves before it is consumed.
ConAgra continues to state that they did not know the peanut butter was contaminated before it was distributed, but the plea deal shows that they admitted to knowing it tested positive twice in 2004 – long before they recalled all their products in 2007.
None of the funds from this fine will go to the victims. Already 150 people are seeking financial restitution, but none could prove that they were sickened by the peanut butter.