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ConAgra Agrees to Pay $11.2 Million for Salmonella Outbreak

Company pleads guilty to single misdemeanor

Omaha-based ConAgra Foods Inc. has reached a plea agreement with U.S. attorneys that will see its ConAgra Grocery Products Company plead guilty to a single misdemeanor violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

If accepted by the U.S. District Court in Albany, GA, the plea agreement will end the government’s investigation into the 2006-07 Salmonella Tennessee outbreak that was blamed on ConAgra’s Peter Pan peanut butter produced in Sylvester, GA.

peterpan_406x250Peter Pan peanut butter was recalled as the outbreak strain eventually spread to 44 states, infecting at least 700 people and sending about 20 percent of them to hospitals. The outbreak did not result in any deaths.

“Before the 2007 recall, food safety experts and the regulatory community believed that salmonella was unlikely to be present in finished peanut butter products,” ConAgra stated Wednesday. “It was generally believed that the low moisture content of finished peanut butter inhibited the growth of bacteria such as salmonella.”

The problem was traced to an old peanut roaster not uniformly heating, a storm-damaged sugar silo which was permitting the entry of birds and insects, and a leaky roof, which may have allowed moisture into the production process.

The company said that it gained “new insight” from the outbreak and recall of its Peter Pan products, which has been applied in the Sylvester, GA, plant since it re-opened in August 2007. ConAgra said that today its Peter Pan peanut butter is safe and wholesome.

Under the plea agreement, ConAgra agrees to pay a fine and forfeiture totaling $11.2 million. The government agreed to no corporate probation since the company has no no violations in the past eight years since the outbreak.

Expenses since the Peter Pan recall, including payments to victims, upgrading the Sylvester plant, and enhancing food safety practices company-wide, have cost ConAgra about $275 million. The company is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The “negotiated resolution” with the federal government announced today includes acknowledgement that ConAgra was a responsible actor in the 2007 event, that none of its testing from 2004 to 2007 found any contamination, and that the government accepts that ConAgra shared information with both its competitors and the government concerning the safe manufacture of peanut butter.

The plea agreement requires approval by U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands.

© Food Safety News
  • Tman

    Who in their right minds would continue to buy products from a corporation that would allow their production equipment to become so dilapidated as to promote salmonella in their finished products? This is a serious quality control issue which I doubt has been totally resolved in the last 8 years not only at this plant, but at every ConAgra Foods plant. Quality control and preventive maintenance are things that are either engrained in corporate consciousness or not, and prevailing attitudes are not going to change in such a short amount of time. Buyer Beware.

    • Gary

      Short time? It has been 8 years. Working in QA for a company that’s a supplier of ConAgra (we just had an audit by them) trust me, they put food safety and quality in the forefront. This incident changed their “corporate consciousness”. Wouldn’t you think it would change ANY corporate consciousness after a cost to the tune of over $250 million? Of course it does. If you think it doesn’t you are not only out of tune, but absolutely nuts (pun intended).

      • stentor

        Gary, that is great but there are many of us that got SCREWED! My life is forever changed and I am sick for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sick prior and for extenuating circumstances I couldn’t file a lawsuit that was completed. I don’t want to get into the details, but there are some of us out here and I have suffered financially and physically on a large scale with only a small bone thrown my way. There is NO doubt in my mind the contaminated peanut butter made me sick. What of all of us??????

        I am sure there are those people who have false claims but I do not and I pay every day.

        • Gary

          Stentor, unfortunately these things happen and have been happening through the course of time since we have been eating food. I am sorry for what you went through. I guess I can’t expect you to read the content of my post for what it is worth since you are so personally involved.