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Peanut butter salmonella outbreak brings federal charges against four

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and KATE BRUMBACK Published: February 22, 2013
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/articleid/3757949/1/pictures/1959930">Photo - FILE -In this Jan. 29, 2009 file photo, an Early County, Ga. Sheriff's car sits parked in front of the the Peanut Corporation of America processing plant in Blakely, Ga. A federal grand jury indicted four employees of a peanut company, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, linked to a 2009 salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds. The indictment was unsealed in federal court in Georgia and charges four employees with Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America.  (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File) ORG XMIT: SOR101
FILE -In this Jan. 29, 2009 file photo, an Early County, Ga. Sheriff's car sits parked in front of the the Peanut Corporation of America processing plant in Blakely, Ga. A federal grand jury indicted four employees of a peanut company, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, linked to a 2009 salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds. The indictment was unsealed in federal court in Georgia and charges four employees with Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File) ORG XMIT: SOR101

Criminal charges are rare in food outbreak cases because intentional adulteration is often hard to prove and companies often step up and acknowledge their mistakes. Widespread outbreaks, like the 2009salmonella in peanuts, are becoming more common as food companies ship all over the country and the world.

The conditions at Peanut Corporation of America — and the employees' alleged attempts to conceal them — appear more pronounced than most. Food and Drug Administration inspectors found remarkably bad conditions inside the processing plant in Blakely, Ga., including mold, roaches and a leaky roof. According to e-mail uncovered by congressional investigators shortly after the outbreak, Parnell, who invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress in February 2009, once directed employees to “turn them loose” after samples of peanuts had tested positive for salmonella and were then cleared in another test.

The indictment says the company misled its customers about the existence of salmonella in its product. It says the co-workers even fabricated certificates accompanying shipments.


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