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Prosecutor: Peanut plant faked salmonella results

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 1, 2014 at 1:50 pm •  Published: August 1, 2014

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak cut corners and sent fake lab results to customers, endangering consumers nationwide, federal prosecutors said Friday as they opened a rare case seeking criminal punishment for corporate workers over food poisoning.

Peanut Corp. of America "had a huge problem with salmonella in its plant and in the products it produced," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Dasher told the jury in his opening statement — a two-hour preview of a case that could take months to present. Yet he said the company shipped products that were untested and products that it knew were tainted to customers including food giant Kellogg's.

Managers employed to run the company's plants failed to do their jobs, leaving former Peanut Corp. owner Stewart Parnell "holding the bag," defense attorney Tom Bondurant told jurors.

Parnell; brother Michael Parnell, a food broker who oversaw the company's contract with Kellogg's, and plant quality control manager Mary Wilkerson are charged in the case, being heard in U.S. District Court. None is charged with directly causing any deaths. Instead, the 76-count indictment accuses the Parnell brothers of shipping contaminated or mislabeled food across state lines and defrauding customers who required the company to confirm the safety of its products using lab tests before shipping them. Stewart Parnell and Wilkerson are also charged with trying to conceal information from investigators.

Opening statements detailed the 2008-09 salmonella outbreak, which prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 714 people in 46 states were infected and nine people died — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina. Neither side, however, raised the death toll with jurors Friday.

The Georgia plant saw a steady stream of positive salmonella tests for its products at least since 2003, Dasher said. From 2007 to 2009, he said, the plant struggled to keep up with orders to supply Kellogg's with 40,000 pounds of peanut paste twice per week — a product that went into peanut butter crackers sold under the Keebler and Austin labels.

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