When it comes to certain cases related to food safety, the wheels of justice turn mighty slow.  But recently, the judicial system has sent a powerful and far-reaching message to the food and other consumer products focused industry and to their respective supply chain partners.

In early 2009, there was an incident involving a salmonella outbreak linked to peanuts and peanut butter products distributed by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).  That salmonella outbreak sickened over 700 people and led to the liquidation of PCA.

Four former executives of PCA and a related company faced criminal charges for covering up information that peanut butter produced was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.  The 76 count indictment included charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, among others related to distributing adulterated or misbranded food. Federal officials alleged 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).

This week, a U.S. District Court judge sentenced two former plant managers at the PCA Georgia peanut processing plant identified in the 2009 incident to six year and three year prison sentences. Both would have probably faced higher sentences if they had faced trial and not pleaded guilty. Both made deals with prosecutors to testify against Stewart Parnell, the owner of PCA. The Georgia plant’s quality control manager received a five year prison sentence.

Last week, Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison after being found guilty on 67 criminal counts. Some noted that the Parnell sentence was too harsh, especially in the light of convictions in similar salmonella related cases.

According to a published AP report syndicated on Manufacturing.net:

Investigators discovered the Georgia plant had a leaky roof, roaches and evidence of rodents, all ingredients for brewing salmonella. They also uncovered emails and records showing food confirmed by lab tests to contain salmonella was shipped to customers anyway. Other batches were never tested at all, but got shipped with fake lab records stating that salmonella screenings turned out negative.”

Once more, tainted peanut products were shipped up the supply chain to other producers who used them to make snack crackers and other products.

Parnell’s attorneys blamed the scheming on the two former plant mangers. They argued Parnell, who ran the business from his home, was a poor manager who failed to keep up with his employees’ actions.

It may indeed seem that the wheels of justice do turn slow, six years in this case.  But a strong and powerful message has been administered, one that will reverberate across food and consumer goods supply chains.  Food safety is paramount and knowingly and willingly supporting or advocating the shipment of tainted food or improper quality monitoring processes will have a consequence, one that has taken on even more meaning.