The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last week began reaching out under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to those sickened in the 2006-07 Salmonella Tennessee outbreak caused by contaminated Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters. “You are receiving this notice because the government has reason to believe that you may have been the victim of a crime related to an outbreak of salmonella infections caused by contaminated peanut butter in 2006-2007, “ writes Alan Phelps, trial attorney for DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch, in the letter dated Aug. 20, 2014. Phelps’ letter to victims, which states that no charges have yet been filed, is the first confirmation by the government that charges are being considered against Omaha-based ConAgra Foods Inc., the $17.7-billion food conglomerate that owns the peanut butter processing plant at Sylvester, GA, that produced the contaminated Peter Pan and Great Value brands. ConAgra has also gone public in its current 10-K annual statement filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the corporation will likely be charged with a federal criminal misdemeanor stemming from the seven-year-old tainted peanut butter incident. “We are a party to a number of lawsuits and claims arising out of our ongoing business operations. Among these, there are lawsuits, claims, and matters related to the February 2007 recall of our peanut butter products,” ConAgra’s 10-K states. “Among the matters outstanding during fiscal 2014 related to the peanut butter recall is an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Georgia and the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice,” the financial document continues. “In fiscal 2011, we received formal requests from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Georgia seeking a variety of records and information related to the operations of our peanut butter manufacturing facility in Sylvester, Georgia. “These requests relate to the June 2007 execution of a search warrant at our facility following the February 2007 recall. During fiscal 2013 and 2012, we recognized charges of $7.5 million and $17.5 million, respectively, in connection with this matter. During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014, we reduced our accrual by $6.7 million in connection with ongoing discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice in regard to the investigation. “We are pursuing a negotiated resolution, which we believe will likely involve a misdemeanor criminal disposition under the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act. After taking into account liabilities recorded for these matters, we believe the ultimate resolution of this matter should not have a material adverse effect on our financial conditions, results of operations, or liquidity.” The DOJ letter to the victims also notes “… most criminal cases are resolved by a plea agreement between the United States Attorney’s Office and the defendant.” According to the DOJ letter, crime victims have a series of rights, including the right to be notified of public court proceedings for any plea or sentencing. The agency has set up a website where notices of such proceedings will be posted for the Peter Pan/Great Value case. ConAgra’s Sylvester, GA, peanut butter plant is located just 20 miles from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in Albany. That’s where a trio of former executives for the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America is currently on trial on federal felony charges stemming from another Salmonella outbreak involving peanut butters that occurred two years after the Peter Pan/Great Value one. The U.S. Attorney’s office and DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting that case, which is halfway through an expected eight-week trial. The Peter Pan/Great Value Salmonella Tennessee infections were the first of what has turned out to be a series of peanut butter-related outbreaks. ConAgra said its production in Sylvester got contaminated when “inadvertent moisture” got into the plant, bringing dormant Salmonella bacteria in raw peanuts or peanut dust to life. Peanut butter produced at the Sylvester plant sickened 425 people in 44 states, with most of the illness onset dates falling between Aug. 1, 2006, and Feb. 16, 2007. The Salmonella Tennessee infections did not result in any deaths, but about 20 percent of the victims required hospitalization. Consumers were left to search their pantries for jars of the two peanut butter brands with the product code number beginning with 2111 on the lid. If they found it, many went off to have their Salmonella infections confirmed by lab tests. But even those without a tainted jar of peanut butter had good reason for a loss of confidence in a product long trusted by the public, including parents. Less than two years later, in late 2008, a Salmonella outbreak traced back to PCA would sicken 700 people and kill nine. Almost 4,000 products containing PCA peanut butter or paste were recalled by several hundred companies. And, in 2012, organic peanut butters made by Sunland Inc. in Portales, NM, and, just recently, at a nSpired Natural Foods facility in Ashland, OR, have suffered the same fate.