From Peanuts to Prison

In 2008, a deadly Salmonella outbreak in peanut butter ran unbridled across 46 states. Its deadly rampage was responsible for nine deaths as well 714 confirmed cases of illness. This number is considered extremely conservative as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) often state that for every reported case of Salmonella another 38 go unreported. This could put the potential affected well above the twenty thousand mark.  It was considered the worst Salmonella outbreak in recent years which resulted in massive recalls and substantial revenue loss. Peanut butter went from being in every child’s lunch pale to being ostracized from the pantry.

Obviously, inquiries into how this massive outbreak was allowed to happen delved deep to find the root of the issue. Blame was eventually pinned on the sleeve of the Peanut Corporation of

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 11:  Stewart Parnell, owner and president of the Peanut Corporation of America, is sworn in before during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill February 11, 2009 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on recent salmonella outbreaks associated with peanut butter manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Stewart Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment at a congressional hearing.

America or PCA. On Monday, Stewart Parnell, CEO, and his associates were eventually held accountable for the failures of the company. Many assumed that Monday’s court hearing would be another charade of justice with the judge fining the company as so many cases like this have ended in the past. However, a chill wind swept through boardrooms across the country as CEO Parnell received a sentence of 28 years, his brother Michael (also a company member) received twenty years, and the company’s Quality Assurance manager was sentenced to 5 years in prison. While Parnell vehemently denied he had any knowledge of the bacterial contamination, one haunting email stands out among the incriminating pile. When a shipment was delayed as the Salmonella testing results were not yet available, Pharnel simple said, “Just ship it”.  This is a landmark decision in the food industry and the sternest punishment handed out in a food poisoning case.

While this appears to be a moment of clarity and justice in the eyes of consumers, outbreaks of this nature are not uncommon. Since the 2008 outbreak, there have been multiple mass outbreaks resulting in millions of dollars of forfeited assets, hundreds of hospitalizations, and even multiple deaths. Just this summer, an outbreak in cucumbers claimed three lives and have infected hundreds.  What can be taken away from this case is that courts are growing increasingly intolerant of these incidents, and rightfully so. In an age where we expect, if not demand perfection, adding in a generation that places increasing importance on healthy living, these types of outbreaks are going to met with growing awareness, anger, and outcries for retribution. The social connectivity of the world via the internet and social media means that information about events like these are spread exponentially quicker than the past. The more people who know, the more people that demand something be done.

HardyCHROM Salmonella

HardyCHROM Salmonella

The FDA is rolling out new regulations in hopes to further prevent Salmonella, E. coli and other outbreaks from happening. However, regulation is only as effective as those who adhere to it. The sentencing of the PCA’s quality assurance manager shows that not just public figures like CEO’s are under the microscope (excuse the pun). Proper cleanroom procedure, gowning, quality assurance environmental testing, and quality control are all equally important and necessary to maintain good manufacturing practice.

Hardy Diagnostics offers a wide variety of microbiology supplies targeted for the food production sector.

Concerning Salmonella, Hardy Diagnostics offers chromogenic media such as the HardyCHROM for Salmonella, Transport media such as the PDX-SIB for environmental Salmonella detection, and our identification and enumeration plates Compact Dry for Salmonella.

If you have any questions, contact our helpful technical support staff by emailing them here.
Or call them at 1-800-266-2222-5598.

Daniel Ballew
Written by Daniel Ballew
Daniel is a Marketing Associate for Hardy Diagnostics. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History and a certificate in World Religions at California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo in San Luis Obispo, California where he studied mythology and the development of Christianity.

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