Federal criminal charges related to contaminated peanut butter produced in 2007 in Sylvester, GA, may yet be brought against the owner, ConAgra Foods Inc.
Citing a ConAgra report, the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Tuesday disclosed that the company and the U.S. Department of Justice are in ongoing discussions regarding the investigation.
“We are pursuing a negotiated resolution, which we believe will likely involve a misdemeanor criminal disposition under the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act,” ConAgra said.
Seven years ago, Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters produced by ConAgra at the Sylvester plant were recalled because they were associated with a multi-state Salmonella outbreak. The contaminated peanut butter was blamed for 288 foodborne illnesses in 39 states.
The immediate investigation focused on a faulty roof on the Sylvester plant that may have allowed moisture to invade the production process.
A criminal investigation was launched in 2011 in a joint venture between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Georgia and DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch.
Those are the same prosecutors who separately charged four former executives of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) with a total of 76 federal felony counts for a peanut butter-related outbreak not involving ConAgra that occurred in late 2008. A trial in that case is scheduled for this summer.
If ConAgra is successful in negotiations with federal prosecutors, it won’t be unprecedented. Sara Lee Corporation pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge and agreed to pay $4.4 million in civil and criminal penalties for producing and distributing contaminated hotdogs and deli meats in 2001, causing 15 deaths.
The investigation itself has cost ConAgra $25 million, according to the Omaha, NE-based company. ConAgra is a Fortune-500 company that employs more than 36,000 people and has net sales totaling approximately $18 billion.© Food Safety News