It would appear that when it comes to certain cases related to food safety, the wheels of justice turn mighty slow.  Supply Chain Matters readers might recall the early 2009 incident involving a salmonella outbreak linked to peanuts and peanut butter products distributed by the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).  That salmonella outbreak sickened over 700 people and led to the liquidation of PCA.

National Public Radio reports that four former executives of PCA and a related company are now facing criminal charges for covering up information that peanut butter produced was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.  The 76 count indictment was unsealed last week in a U.S. federal court in Georgia. The charges include conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, among others related to distributing adulterated or misbranded food. Federal officials allege that certain executives at PCA were aware of salmonella testing results, failed to alert consumers, and lied about test results to inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The four people indicted include Stewart Parnell, the former company president; Samuel Lightsey, former Blakely plant operations manager; and Mary Wilkerson, a quality assurance manager. Also indicted was Michael Parnell, who worked as a food broker on behalf of PCA. If convicted, these executives could face up to 20 years in prison.

In our coverage of this past peanut butter contamination incident, we noted government investigations that indicated that the timeline for the actual contamination was much broader. The actual occurrences of reported sicknesses actually occurred as far back as October of 2008.  It wasn’t until early January of 2009 that various state and federal government officials were able to triangulate the 430 reported sicknesses and 5 deaths to peanut products being produced by the PCA facility in Blakely Georgia.

In February 0f 2010, roughly one year after the major recall, we made note of an article appearing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution indicating that little had changed since the incident, with Georgia state legislators amending a plan calling for increased food inspections, including peanuts, by allowing companies to conduct their on food safety audits in lieu of inspections. At the time, the bill exempted plants whose end product was a raw agricultural product, which included peanut growers who at the time represented about 46 percent of the U.S. supply.  Also reported was that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had decided to defer any ongoing investigation of PCA to federal authorities.

Here we are, four years since the original incident, and the indictments have now come forth. It seems that the wheels of justice do turn slow, but at least they are turning. It would be rather interesting to observe what additional information comes to light when these indicted executives have their trials.  That is, of course, if they reach the trial stage. Daniel Kilgore, who served as a plant manager from 2002 through 2008, has already pleaded guilty in the case.

Bob Ferrari