According to a leading criminal defense attorney, the food industry may be about to face a substantial increase in criminal investigations related to food recalls and outbreaks.

“There’s a tremendous pressure on the FDA to increase the criminal prosecutions of foodborne illness cases.  In fact, the office of criminal investigation at FDA has increased by 73 percent in the last couple of years,” said Thomas J. Bondurant Jr.

Bondurant is partner at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore LLP, the firm serving as counsel to Stewart Parnell, president and CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, a company under criminal investigation for selling Salmonella-contaminated peanut products.

His remarks were made before an audience of food safety experts at the American Conference Institute’s 4th National Forum on Foodborne Illness Litigation in Chicago Thursday.

According to Bondurant, the FDA announced, through the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, that there would be an increase in corporate criminal investigations related to food.  “Very soon, and I have no one particular in mind [‘Sure,’ he sarcastically interjects], some corporate executive is going to be the first in a long line,” he quoted an official as saying. “So do the right thing before we find out about it.”

“The explosion of food recalls is the perfect climate for the explosion of criminal prosecutions,” added Bondurant.  “In 2006, there were about 200 recalls.  In 2008, there were about 305.  In 2009, there were 500, and as of September 1st of this year there were 684 food recalls.”