Between 2006 and 2007, there was a major salmonella outbreak that stemmed from ConAgra Grocery Products LLC. The company shipped contaminated cases of peanut butter under the Peter Pan brand and Wal-Mart’s Great Value label. More than 700 people reported getting sick, and nine deaths were tied to the outbreak. Now, ConAgra Foods is facing criminal charges and must pay a major fine.
ConAgra Foods plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor for the salmonella outbreak. To resolve the allegations, they must pay $11.2 million in fines. That’s the largest amount any food organization has ever had to pay. This goes to show that the Justice Department is putting forth efforts to stop food-safety cases. Consumers should not have to worry about getting sick from foodborne illnesses that could have been prevented.
To date, the Justice Department has won four criminal cases against food companies for violating the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Only four criminal cases were charged between 1988 and 2012. Other recent cases include a 2010 salmonella outbreak from an egg producer and a listeria outbreak from a cantaloupe farm. The Justice Department is really stepping it up to hold food companies responsible for unsafe practices.
Virginia Attorney James Neale said, “It’s a sea of change. Everyone is paying closer attention to food safety.” He was not directed involved in the criminal proceedings, but he is an expert in the industry and has followed the cases closely.
The criminal cases are controversial because convictions have happened even though there is no proof that officials acted with malicious intentions. Most people would claim that the contaminations were accidents. Regardless, food companies need to pay closer attention to their manufacturing policies and cleaning procedures and take all foodborne illness threats seriously. It’s something they should be checking at every stop in the supply chain.