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Former Ga. peanut company officials charged in salmonella outbreak

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By USA Today
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 6:57 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Four former officials of the Peanut Corp. of America were named in a 75-count indictment on Thursday on charges related to salmonella-tainted peanuts and peanut products.

The charges cap an inquiry that began in 2009 as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control traced a national outbreak of salmonella to a PCA plant in Blakely, Ga.

Named in the indictment: brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell, former PCA president and vice president; Samuel Lightsey, plant operations manager; and Mary Wilkerson, plant quality assurance manager.

The Parnell brothers and Lightsey have been charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce. Stewart Parnell and Wilkerson were charged with obstruction of justice.

“The indictment alleges that PCA officials affirmatively lied to their customers about the presence of salmonella in PCA's products,” said Stuart Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Delery said some officials at PCA, no longer in business, fabricated lab results certifying to customers that the products were salmonella-free, “even when tests showed the presence of salmonella or when no tests had been done at all.”

The salmonella outbreak sickened 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths, the CDC reported. The illnesses began in January 2009 and led to one of the largest food recalls in history, involving thousands of products.

Lou Tousignant, whose father, Clifford Tousignant, died after eating contaminated peanut butter from PCA, said he has been waiting for four years for the results of the inquiry.

Tousignant said while there's been much movement on food safety with the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, regulations aren't what will bring about change.

“If you knowingly do something and send it out and then go to prison — that will make people think twice,” Tousignant said.

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