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As peanut company executives are sent to jail, FDA improves its food safety procedures

Peanut_smallFormer Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell and his co-defendants were sentenced Monday for fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and other charges in the huge 2008 Salmonella outbreak linked to PCA’s products.

Parnell received a 28-year sentence and his brother and food broker Michael Parnell was given a 20-year sentence. Mary Wilkerson, the plant’s quality assurance manager, received five years.

The salmonella outbreak in 2008 was traced back to peanut butter paste manufactured by PCA.  Nine people died and were 714 sickened in 46 states. It caused one of the largest food recalls in American history and was the deadliest salmonella outbreak in recent years.

“To be sure, the long sentences handed down today will not bring back the nine Americans who died after eating contaminated peanut products that Parnell and his co-defendants knowingly marketed, nor will they retroactively undo the sicknesses and hospitalizations of those who survived,” said David Plunkett, senior food safety attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

But, Plunkett said, they’ll send a strong signal to food manufacturers that pursuing profits at the expense of food safety can bring severe consequences.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took action in September to strengthen food safety rules.

Under preventive controls rules, food manufacturers are required to develop food safety plans for how they’ll mitigate or prevent contamination during processing. Also, FDA inspectors will have access to more information about conditions in food facilities. This will help them ensure that companies are complying with their food safety plans.

“It has been a long slow slog, but our country has now taken a major step toward creating a truly modern food safety system, and that’s good news for consumers,” said Plunkett. “This transformative rule focuses on preventing illnesses rather than just responding after people are already sick.”

However, he said Congress needs to fund the FDA so that it can actually conduct inspections and help industry comply with the new requirements.

Plunkett also said the center is disappointed that the FDA exempted thousands of companies that Congress intended to be covered by the new requirements.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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