Sentencing Begins for Food Exec in Salmonella-Tainted Peanut Butter Case

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Newman_210915Sentencing begins today for Stewart Parnell, the first food executive to be charged with a federal crime for a Salmonella outbreak. He was convicted on September 19, 2014 for knowingly distributing salmonella-tainted peanut butter responsible for a 2008 Salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened 714 others across 46 states.

The Peanut Corporation of America, for which Parnell served as executive at the time of the outbreak, was found by investigators to have cut numerous corners in product safety in order to increase profits. Documents and testimony showing that Parnell covered up positive Salmonella test results were introduced at trial. Workers at the company’s Georgia plant described filthy conditions, including bird droppings, mold, rats, and a leaky roof. The tainted peanut butter had been shipped to other companies like Kellogg’s, which then used it in making other food products in addition to being sold directly to consumers.

Stewart Parnell’s brother, Michael Parnell, and plant manager Mary Wilkerson were also convicted in their roles in the fraud and cover-up, but face shorter sentences. The maximum possible sentence Stewart Parnell faces is 9,636 months, which is 803 years.

The sentencing phase will permit testimony from victims of the outbreak and the relatives of those who died. Some, like Randy Napier, whose mother was one of the victims who died, intend to ask for as strong a sentence as possible. Relatives of the Parnells and Wilkerson will also testify to ask for leniency.

Prior to the Parnell case, companies and executives found guilty in food poisoning cases had only been charged with misdemeanors and were either fined or given prison sentences under a year if convicted. Even if Parnell is not given a life sentence by the judge, the outcome will likely be the first of its kind.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Basu, M., “Peanut Exec Found Guilty in Deadly Salmonella Outbreak,” CNN web site, September 19, 2014; http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/19/us/peanut-butter-salmonella-trial/, last accessed September 21, 2015.

Basu, M., “Peanut Company Owner Faces Life in Jail for Salmonella,” CNN web site, September 21, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/20/us/peanut-butter-salmonella-trial/.
“Sentencing Scheduled For Peanut Executive In Salmonella Case,” The Associated Press web site, September 21, 2015; http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SALMONELLA_OUTBREAK_SENTENCING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.

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