When Someone Dies, It’s Not Business As Usual

By Maria Fontanazza

The impending sentencing of the former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America sends a clear message to food companies about accountability.

Next month Stewart Parnell, the former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in a deadly salmonella outbreak involving shipping contaminated peanut products nationwide. Parnell, who could spend the rest of his life in jail, was found guilty on 71 counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wire fraud. This landmark case sends a strong message about accountability to both industry and consumers, said Darin Detwiler, senior policy coordinator for food safety at STOP Foodborne Illness, at the IAFP 2015 conference in July.

“His actions resulted in technically more deaths than that of Charles Manson,” said Detwiler, who indicated that Parnell is still very much in denial over his role in the salmonella outbreak. “This might be one snapshot—one look at one person in one industry, in one business—but think about how many companies are out there [and] of this mindset—the idea that they’ll never get caught.”

Food companies should be held strictly liable when it comes to consumer safety, ensuring that they take preventive measures so that illness and death never happen. The sentencing of Parnell next month could set a precedent for how future cases involving companies responsible for foodborne illnesses and outbreaks are handled.

About The Author

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech


  1. Douglas C. Moyer, PhD

    This is a prime example of how a Food Safety incident becomes Food Fraud. INTENT is the line that was crossed. Food Fraud is intentional deception for economic gain using food. (If the intent were to do harm it would have been Food Defense – like a terrorist act.) While a harsh sentence for the perpetrator(s) may deter would-be fraudsters, the detect-and-deter approach is woefully inefficient – and puts consumers and brands at risk. PREVENTION is the strategy necessary for food regulators (See “prevention” in FSMA wording) and brand-owners to truly thwart Food Fraud. It must be holistic and efficient to be a successful strategy.

    You can join us in the battle at the Michigan State University’s Food Fraud Initiative (http://foodfraud.msu.edu and @FoodFraud).

  2. Andrew Thomson

    The issue of accountability is a topic I have raised at conferences with food regulators across Australia and New Zealand.
    The reform to food safety in Australia ostensibly stemmed from a catastrophic food borne illness outbreak and is commonly referred to as Garibaldi. This outbreak occurred over the Christmas 1994 holiday period in South Australia.
    A young four year old girl died and 23 others were hospitalised due to the effects of food poisoning after consuming contaminated salami.
    Nikki Robinson was killed by toxins in the meat that attacked her brain and caused a fatal stroke.
    The illness caused kidney and other systemic failures and long hospitalisations and life-long ongoing illness in others affected.
    Her death was the result of Garibaldi Smallgoods failure to upgrade its processes and standards from assurances provided to the South Australian Health Commission from a previous outbreak of which they failed to follow up. The effects of this outbreak nearly ruined the smallgoods industry, it also sent a huge ripple through the Australian food industry and regulatory authorities alike. Much needed food law reform was introduced by ANZFA as it was then known in 2001-2003.

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