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Officials from the Peanut Corporation of America have been charged with fraud and conspiracy after the 2009 salmonella outbreak, reports Wired.com.The indictment comes from a Georgia court. The peanut officials have been charged with knowingly distributing salmonella-contaminated products.
The outbreak killed nine people. A total of 714 people were infected with salmonella in 46 states. This was not necessarily the largest outbreak of salmonella, but it was one of the more egregious cases, particularly because of the allegations that the higher-ups at the PCA knew about the salmonella and turned a blind eye.
Prosecution is unrealistic and uncommon in most food borne illness cases. But this case isn't like most cases. There was not only negligence here but wanton misconduct according to authorities.
To begin with, there were unrepaired roof leaks and throngs of rodents and insects. In addition, the machinery wasn't properly calibrated to ensure safe handling and conditions in the plants were overall unsanitary. Those violations amount to negligence or even gross negligence -- not necessarily the types of things people get prosecuted over.
But the false labels and fake lab results take it up to a whole new level. When lab results were pending on a particular box, PCA president Stewart Parnell ordered the box to be shipped regardless, allegedly saying "[expletive], just ship it. I cannot afford to loose [sic] another customer."
In addition to the peanut boxes that were shipped without proper lab results, there were also boxes that were shipped after lab results showed the contents to be contaminated.
The PCA officials are facing criminal charges of fraud. The idea behind fraud is that the offender had the intention to mislead another, resulting in detrimental reliance on that misleading statement. Detrimental, indeed, as the PCA's fraud led to hundreds of hospitalizations and nine deaths.