Former Food Executive Gets 28 Years in Salmonella Case
Yesterday, former peanut company executive Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in a nationwide salmonella outbreak blamed for killing nine Americans and sickening hundreds more. The former owner of the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America was convicted a year ago for knowingly shipping tainted peanuts and for faking lab records that said the products were safe. The sentence is believed to be the severest punishment ever given out to a producer in a food-borne illness case.
It is also a wake-up call for CEO’s and company boards to heed the current FDA regulations as well as the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It is the most significant reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. Its goal is to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by emphasizing prevention rather than reaction to food contamination.
Because nearly 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from food-borne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FSMA will phase in new sweeping regulatory powers for the FDA over the next several months and years. Some of these powers include:
Mandatory inspection frequency based on risk with all high-risk facilities inspected by 2019.
Records access by the FDA without cause.
Mandatory recall if company unwilling to issue voluntary recall per FDA’s request.
Suspension of FDA registration if food shows probability of serious health consequences.
Educating and training personnel on the new laws and guidelines.
Building an internal steering committee and working with external experts when necessary.
Implementing preventive controls now.
The sentencing on Monday heralds the era of “criminal sanctions” and will force company executives to subscribe to the FSMA and place just as much importance on the food safety process as any packaging line process.