On Sept. 21, a Georgia jury convicted Stewart Parnell, CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), and his brother Michael Parnell, a food broker, along with Mary Wilkerson, quality assurance manager, for knowingly shipping out salmonella-tainted peanut butter. They were sentenced to 28, 20, and five years respectively. Nine people died and 714 others became ill across 46 states from the outbreak. Following the outbreak, investigators discovered unsanitary conditions at the company’s processing plants–including bird droppings infiltrating from a leaky roof and rats in the processing equipment. After laboratory testing revealed salmonella, Parnell sought other laboratories willing to provide better results. He then had the tainted peanut butter shipped to stores for sale. Professor Timothy Lytton is quoted in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution‘s article, “Prison for peanut execs sets new example,” suggesting that, although this sentence is likely to send strong signals throughout the food industry, it is unclear what impact this case will have on other areas of product safety such as automobile design.
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law. His research examines health and safety regulation with a focus on food policy. He is the author of Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food (Harvard U. Press 2013) and is currently writing a book on the U.S. food safety system.