Peanut butter exec Stewart Parnell is facing federal felony charges for covering up a deadly 2008-09 salmonella outbreak at his company’s peanut-processing plants. The peanut butter poisoned hundreds of people around the country and caused nine deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. Justice Department Thursday announced the charges against Parnell, owner of Peanut Corp. of America, and other employees “engaged in a multiyear conspiracy to hide the fact that many of the company’s products were tainted with salmonella,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Prosecutors said the company failed to notify its customers—including several national food companies—when independent lab tests revealed the presence of salmonella. In some cases, company officials fabricated lab results, stating peanut products were salmonella-free even when tests showed otherwise, or when no tests had been conducted at all, the Justice Department said.
The 76-count indictment against Mr. Parnell and ex-employees includes charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and introducing adulterated food into the market.
Food policy lawyers say it’s one of the biggest criminal indictments of food safety violations in Food and Drug Administration history. It may signal an increasingly aggressive attempt to prosecute tainted-food producers in the wake of a slate of recent widespread food poisoning outbreaks in the U.S.