Following the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment of former Peanut Corporation of America executives on Thursday, the families of victims poisoned by the company responded with joy and relief at the prospect of a criminal trial four years after the company caused a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened more than 700.
But most of all, many family members expressed a hope that the unprecedented charges would deter other food manufacturers from ever compromising their food safety standards.
“The most important message to come out of this is for these other food manufacturers and companies: ‘Yes, something will happen when you cut corners,’” said Randy Napier, whose mother, Nellie, was the ninth and last victim to die in the outbreak. “You’re playing Russian roulette when you walk into a grocery store. It has to stop.”
“For the last four years, this has been my family’s perspective: If there’s a way to have something good coming out of something this bad, it’s [PCA CEO and President Stewart Parnell] being convicted and having others take a lesson from this,” said Lou Tousignant, whose father, Clifford, also died in the outbreak.
Kenneth Kendrick, a former PCA employee who became a whistleblower over the company’s fraudulent practices in 2006, expressed his relief on behalf of the families impacted by the outbreak in an emailed statement to Food Safety News.
Considering the “superior” rating PCA received from a third party auditor just before the outbreak began, Kendrick also said he hoped the case would bring a heightened level of scrutiny to the business of third-party food auditors.
“As this case proceeds forward, it is my sincere hope that this will spur change in our food safety system,” Kendrick added. “I believe that most food producers really do want to do the right thing, but this should send a loud and clear message that if someone puts their own greed above the safety of others, there will be consequences.”
Following Thursday’s indictment announcement, law firm Gentry Locke, which represents Parnell, said it would vigorously defend its client against the charges. The FDA and other agencies had visited PCA’s plant in Georgia in the years and months prior to the outbreak, at which times they were aware of and did not object to the company’s testing policies and protocols.
“While Mr. Parnell and others associated with PCA have to date remained silent on the circumstances surrounding the Government’s salmonella investigation,” the firm wrote in a statement, “as this matter progresses it will become clear that Mr. Parnell never intentionally shipped or intentionally caused to be shipped any tainted food products capable of harming PCA’s customers.”
After the Department of Justice announced its indictment, the FBI put out a call to hear from PCA’s victims — both those who fell ill in the Salmonella outbreak, and those who suffered from their fraudulent business practices.
Whether or not they aid the FBI in its case, victims’ family members such as Tousignant and Jeffrey Almer, whose mother Shirley died in the outbreak, told Food Safety News they would be in attendance of any potential trial arising from the charges.
The ultimate sense of closure, they said, would result from a conviction that might send a warning message to food manufacturers who might put profits ahead of safety.
“I think that for people who might make those types of malicious decisions, this is the one thing that will get them to think about it before they do it,” Tousignant said.
“I don’t wish ill on anyone, but there are consequences to every action you take,” Napier said. “Unfortunately, [PCA] took actions that hurt a lot of people — hundreds in the hospital and nine deaths. That was their action, and now comes the reaction.”© Food Safety News