Ex-US executive jailed over salmonella outbreak

Washington, Sep 22 (IANS) A former US peanut company executive has been given a 28-year jail sentence for his role in a national salmonella outbreak linked to nine deaths, the media reported on Tuesday.

A federal judge on Monday handed the sentence to Stewart Parnell, 61, the toughest penalty ever for a corporate executive in a food poisoning outbreak. Unless he wins an appeal, Parnell will have to serve out most of his term, CNN reported.

The 2008 salmonella outbreak traced back to peanut butter paste manufactured by the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) that killed nine people and sickened 714 others, some critically, across 46 states. It was the deadliest salmonella outbreak in recent years and resulted in one of the largest food recalls in American history.

His brother and food broker Michael Parnell received a 20-year sentence, and the plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, was given five years.

A jury in south Georgia convicted Stewart Parnell a year ago on 72 counts of fraud, conspiracy and the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. The former PCA CEO was sentenced in Albany, not far from the city of Blakely where his peanut processing plant once profited.

Parnell was facing up to 803 years in prison, and even though his sentence fell far short of the maximum, food safety advocates hailed it as a big step forward.

“Honestly, I think the fact that he was prosecuted at all is a victory for consumers,” said Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer who represented several of the victims in the PCA outbreak.

“Although his sentence is less than the maximum, it is the longest sentence ever in a food poisoning case,” Marler said, adding “This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through board rooms across the US.”

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