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Peanut exec gets 28 years in salmonella outbreak

A landmark sentence was handed down to a company executive responsible for a deadly salmonella outbreak that left nine dead and more than 700 others sick.

A federal Georgia judge sentenced the head of a peanut processing plant to 28 years in prison for convictions that included wire fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy after the exec green-lighted the shipment of products he knew were contaminated with the bacteria. The resulting product recall was one of the largest for food products ever.

Along with the company owner, two others will spend time behind bars for their roles in the outbreak. The owner's brother, a company food broker who arranged sales of the products to corporations like Kellog's, drew a two-decade stint in prison. The facility's quality control manager also was sentenced to a term of five years.

The sentences mark the first time executives were punished for felonies resulting from food-borne contamination in 77 years.

Jurors returned with convictions after testimony was presented that detailed the facility's unsanitary conditions — roach and rodent infestations, a leaky roof and bird droppings. Other evidence included falsified lab tests indicating the products were free of salmonella, financial data and one particularly damning email from the CEO to the manager that stated, "Just ship it."

Ultimately, about 4,000 types of processed food were recalled, including peanut butter crackers and pet food.

American consumers must be able to trust that the food supply is safe. This requires cooperation with corporations and federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. When company owners and their employees deliberately subvert the process out of greed, they should be held legally responsible. Even without a felony conviction, civil litigation can compensate those injured by their callous disregard, as well as their survivors.

Source: Huffington Post, "Peanut Boss Sentenced To 28 Years For Deadly Salmonella Outbreak," Kim Bellware, Sep. 22, 2015

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