Conagra Faces Largest Fine in U.S. Food Safety History

December 13, 2016

3 Min Read
Conagra Faces Largest Fine in U.S. Food Safety History
The headquarters of Conagra Brands, formerly known as ConAgra Foods. Image courtesy of Conagra Brands

An executive representing a subsidiary of Conagra Brands, formerly known as ConAgra Foods, pled guilty to a criminal misdemeanor Tuesday at a federal court in Georgia in a case relating to a 2006 salmonella outbreak in Peter Pan peanut butter that caused hundreds of illnesses across the country, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced and multiple news organizations reported.

“This case demonstrates companies – both large and small – must be vigilant about food safety,” a statement by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said. “We rely every day on food processors and handlers to meet the high standards required to keep our food free of harmful contamination.”

The criminal case centered on the allegation that Conagra Brands subsidiary ConAgra Grocery Products LLC shipped salmonella-tainted peanut butter from Georgia to Texas in December 2006. 

"In pleading guilty to violating the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the company admitted that it introduced Peter Pan and private label peanut butter contaminated with salmonella into interstate commerce during the salmonellosis outbreak," explained the DOJ's press release. 

The guilty plea concludes an investigation into the outbreak, traced to a manufacturing plant in Sylvester, GA that produces peanut butter, which caused illness in 625 customers across 47 states, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Under the proposed deal, Conagra would pay $11.2 million, in addition to an $8 million fine – a figure that the U.S. Justice Department said would be the “largest criminal fine over food safety in the United States,” reported the Tribune. The company may also have to forfeit $3.2 million in assets. A hearing was set Tuesday by Judge Sands to go over the terms of the agreement.

“Consumers are at the mercy of food merchants when it comes to the wholesomeness and healthiness of the food we consume, and, as the result, a great responsibility is imposed by law on those merchants and manufacturers,” U.S. Attorney G.F. “Pete” Peterman III for the Middle District of Georgia said in a DOJ press release. “Likewise, agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry and peanuts and peanut products are a major factor in the health of that industry. While Conagra did take corrective action eventually, by failing to timely recognize and rectify the problem of salmonella contamination, this company damaged the health of both public consumers and of the agricultural industry overall.”

The DOJ said that Conagra made improvements at its plant to address conditions that led to the outbreak and implemented new food safety protocols and procedures in manufacturing, testing and sanitation.

The Associated Press reported that Conagra officials placed blame for the incident on moisture from a leaky roof and problems with its sprinkler system at the Georgia manufacturing facility.

For related articles, news, and equipment reviews, visit our Equipment Zones

Sign up for the Powder & Bulk Solids Weekly newsletter.

You May Also Like