Two years ago this week Stewart Parnell, the embattled CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, the company implicated in a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened 700 and killed nine, stood in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
Victims of the outbreak and their families watched in disbelief. Lawmakers were stunned and eventually dismissed Parnell from the hearing.
In the wake of the high-profile food scandal, many of those most intimately affected by the outbreak have become vocal advocates for stronger food safety laws. Friday, 10 victims and surviving family members shared their stories at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Their message was clear. They want the U.S. Department of Justice to file criminal charges against Parnell.
“We’re disappointed in the justice system,” said Larry Andrew of Roseburg, Oregon, whose wife Karen was severely sickened in the outbreak. “If there was ever a case that cried out for prosecution, this is it.”
Karen became ill from eating Clif Bars that had used PCA peanut butter as an ingredient. When all was said and done, more than 4,000 products–from energy bars to crackers–were recalled for containing peanut products believed to be at risk for contamination.
Peter Hurley is a Republican police officer who became a food safety advocate after his 3-year-old son Jake was hospitalized from Salmonella he got from eating his favorite peanut butter crackers. Hurley said he was tired of waiting for action.
“I ask Eric Holder, when will Stewart Parnell be arraigned? It’s time. We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Hurley at the news conference.
Though no federal agency will comment on the status of the case, multiple sources in and outside of government confirm that there is an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Department of Justice.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), in a prepared statement, said, “I believe that this tragedy could have been prevented, but our current food safety system is not strong enough to do so.”
DeLauro said it was the “alleged actions of PCA” during the Salmonella outbreak that highlighted the need for stronger criminal penalties in food safety laws. She called the recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act a “strong first step” but the regulatory system is still “antiquated and incapable of acting efficiently.” As she has before, DeLauro called for consolidating all the federal agencies that share jurisdiction in overseeing the food supply into a single food safety agency.