Peter Pan peanut butter and its parent company, ConAgra, were fined $11.2 million for a salmonella issue back in 2007.
According to NBC News, Peter Pan peanut butter left a plant in Sylvester, Georgia, in 2007. Within weeks, people became ill with salmonella. Subsequent investigations led the Department of Justice to the Sylvester plant, where investigators found nine different locations where salmonella bacteria was alive.
It was determined by the investigators that the plant, which made both Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter, made 625 customers ill across 47 states. ConAgra agreed to recall and pull all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters made since 2004, just to be sure.
ConAgra Chief Operations Officer Al Bolles told investigators that the company has no previous knowledge their peanut butter had been contaminated with salmonella before shipment. The Department of Justice announced that ConAgra knew that both Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters made at the Sylvester, Georgia, plant had tested positive for salmonella contamination twice in 2004. ConAgra had destroyed the jars of peanut butter that were contaminated and identified possible sources of the contamination in 2004. However, the issue arose again in 2007.
In a plea deal, ConAgra was charged with a single count of shipping the adulterated Peter Pan peanut butter. No ConAgra or Peter Pan executives were charged in the plea deal.
USA Today is reporting that the plea deal was struck in the U.S. District Court in Georgia. As part of the plea deal, ConAgra Grocery, a subsidary of ConAgra, admitted it shipped the contaminated Peter Pan peanut butter, thus causing the almost 700 salmonella cases. Federal health officials believe that more than 1,000 cases went unreported, though no deaths were reported.
For violating the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, ConAgra must now pay $8 million in criminal fines, the largest such fine ever levied, and must forfeit $3.2 million in assets to the federal government.
“No company can let down its guard when it comes to these kinds of microbiological contaminants,” said DOJ principal deputy assistant attorney general Benjamin Mizer in a statement. “Salmonellosis is a serious condition, and a food like peanut butter can deliver it straight to children and other vulnerable populations.”
The Department of Justice chastised the Peter Pan manufacturing plant for not correcting the salmonella problem back in 2004, when it first surfaced. During the plea agreement, however, the Justice Department noted that ConAgra had made significant upgrades to the Sylvester plant, and adopted new rules in manufacturing, testing, and sanitation.
[Image courtesy of NBC 26 News]