Stewart Parnell, former president of Peanut Corporation of America, the now-bankrupt firm responsible for a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed 9 last year, is back in the peanut business.
Multiple news outlets reported yesterday that Parnell is now working as a consultant to peanut companies as the federal government’s criminal investigation against him has made little or no progress. A year and a half into the investigation, which is reportedly ongoing, no charges have been brought against Parnell or his colleagues at PCA.
Notorious in food safety circles for pleading the Fifth before Congress in February 2009, Parnell told a national wire service yesterday: “They just say we’re still investigating. I feel like I wish they’d come on and do what they’re going to do. I’d like to get this behind me.”
A Congressional investigation in 2009 revealed emails that appear to indicate Parnell’s company knowingly shipped Salmonella-contaminated peanut products into commerce. FDA investigators found decrepit conditions at the two PCA facilities tied to the outbreak.
“Based on my review of the evidence, there should be a criminal prosecution here,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D – MN), a former prosecutor, when the criminal probe was announced. If Parnell is charged and found guilty, she said, “I would hope that he would go to jail.”
Many victims of the outbreak, including families who lost loved ones, are angry about the lack of criminal charges. Earlene Carter, whose mother died from a Salmonella infection, told Food Safety News she won’t be satisfied until Stewart Parnell is behind bars.
“He should face the consumers under criminal law–not civil–to answer for the crimes he committed,” she said. “After depriving families of their loved ones–who are gone too soon–he should not be shielded. This should never happen again.”
In late August, a federal judge recommended the approval of a $12 million settlement to compensate the most seriously ill victims and their families. The settlements reportedly include $2 million for a West Virginia man and almost $1 million for the family of an Alabama woman. Most of the claims are for less than $100,000.
Vermont resident Gabrielle Meunier, whose 7-year-old son was hospitalized for 6 days after eating contaminated peanut butter, says the $12 million agreement for all the victims is inadequate.
“I feel that the $12 million insurance policy allotted to the victims was not nearly enough,” said Meunier in an email response to Food Safety News. “I feel that a company distributing that amount of food and food products should have had a minimum $50 million policy that could be solely allotted to victims of gross negligence.”
“CEOs and owners of large food companies that distribute their products nationwide need to be held personally accountable for the safety of their food,” added Meunier. “Due diligence in food safety is imperative and they need to understand that they will be held accountable and criminally liable for anything less than this.”