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.