Updated: Jul 19, 2021
In 2008, one of the most far-reaching food recalls in the U.S. was led by the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA). The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) affected more than 360 companies to recall more than 3,900 peanut products across 46 states (1). This is one of the most massive and lethal foodborne contamination cases in the U.S., killing nine and sickening thousands.(1) In a 76-count indictment, Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, was charged with criminal fraud and conspiracy for knowingly shipping out contaminated peanut products to customers in the US.(2) The indictment said that Mr. Parnell and two other employees and Mr. Parnell’s brother, misled customers about the quality of the company’s peanut products. (2)
The case stemmed from Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that traced a national salmonella outbreak to the Parnell company's peanut roasting plant in Blakely, Ga.(3) When laboratory testing revealed the presence of salmonella in peanut products they did not notify customers of the results, according to the indictment.(2) The outbreak sickened 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths, the CDC reported.(3) The illnesses began in January 2009 and ultimately prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. (3)
Had the PCA upheld protocols that avoided hazards during the manufacturing and packaging along with developing a proper recall plan, their peanuts wouldn’t have had rat feces and dust on them in the first place nor would contaminated peanuts have been distributed to the public (for the sake of profits).
“The indictment also described a scheme to fabricate so-called certificates of analysis that accompanied shipments to summarize for customers the results of tests on the products.(2) On several occasions, the indictment contended, employees stated that shipments were safe, when in fact they were contaminated or had not been tested at all.(2)…. When an employee said in an e-mail in 2007 that containers of peanut meal were covered in dust and rat feces, Mr. Parnell’s response was, “Clean em’ all up and ship them.”(2) In another e-mail in 2008, Mr. Parnell scolded employees for wasting peanuts, saying, “These are not peanuts you are throwing away every day, it is money, it is money,” according to the indictment.(2)”
In response to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) recall, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law.(1) The FSMA focused on taking preventative measures in regards to outbreaks rather than just reacting to them.(1) This law instructs companies to apply processes that avoid hazards that may be introduced as part of the manufacturing or packaging process.(1) Regardless of what solutions food producers adopt, the threat of contamination or other food safety issues will always be present no matter how diligent the industry may be.(1) That’s why it’s critical to develop a recall plan because the right recall strategies can save time, money and lives. Regulators have certain minimum requirements, but some companies choose to go above and beyond those mandates to increasing the likelihood that consumers will respond to the recall.
1. Harvey, C. (n.d.). Peanut Corporation of America: 10 Years Later. Retrieved from https://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2019/10-years-after-peanut-corp/
2. Tavernise, S. (2018, October 19). U.S. Charges Former Owner and Employees in Peanut Salmonella Case. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/business/us-charges-former-owner-and-employees-in-peanut-salmonella-case.html?rref=collection/timestopic/Peanut Corporation of America&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=collection
3. McCoy, K. (2015, September 22). Peanut exec in salmonella case gets 28 years. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2015/09/21/peanut-executive-salmonella-sentencing/72549166/