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ConAgra sentencing delayed again in Peter Pan Salmonella case

A criminal case stemming from a foodborne illness outbreak a decade ago now won’t be resolved until sometime after late October.

U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands has directed government and defense lawyers to schedule plea and sentencing hearings for ConAgra Grocery Products Co., a unit of now Chicago-based ConAgra Foods Inc., after Oct. 24, 2016.

peterpan_406x250Sands is a federal judge for the Middle District of Georgia in Albany. He also presided over the criminal prosecutions involving personnel involved with the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America outbreak.

There is no indication that the delay in the ConAgra case is because of anything other than the often diffcult task of coordinating the schedules of the lawyers and the court.

The criminal case was delayed for about a year to give outbreak victims an opportunity to provide information the court will consider during the restriction phase of the sentencing. As many as 200 victims of the Salmonella Tennessee outbreak are seeking restitution.

The first brands of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters were contaminated with Salmonella Tennessee in May 2006. The news set off a scavenger hunt in every house in America. What kind of peanut butter did you have in your kitchen cupboard or pantry? And then, if it was Peter Pan or Great Value, check the list for that 2111 product code found on the lid.

It would end with 425 cases of Salmonella T. being confirmed in 44 of the 50 states. Twenty percent of the victims required hospital care. There were no deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its final report a decade ago. For most of that decade the Food and Drug Administration has known about a serious of food safety failures by the ConAgra Grocery Products Co. at its Sylvester, GA, peanut butter plant.

And, since May 20, 2015, the government and ConAgra have had a plea agreement in place that involves the company pleading guilty to one count of violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and paying a fine of $8.01 million and a forfeiture of $3.2 million. Any restitution imposed would be in addition to those figures.

The agreement does not include any probationary period for the company, largely because it has been operating the Sylvester, GA, peanut butter plant for almost a decade since the outbreak without problems. ConAgra will be required to report on the anniversary date of the executed agreement with written confirmation that its food safety and quality program are being followed.

Multiple failures are believed to have contributed to the contamination of Peter Pan and Great Value branded peanut butter. An older peanut roaster was not sufficiently heating raw peanuts, a sugar silo was storm-damaged, and birds and bees were taking advantage of a leaky roof.

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