Processing Magazine

Bribes Let Tomato Vendor Sell Tainted Food

February 25, 2010

The New York Times reports that Robert Watson, a top ingredient buyer for Kraft Foods, needed $20,000 to pay his taxes, so he called a broker for a California tomato processor that for years had been paying him bribes to get its products into Kraft’s plants. Days after the money was sent, federal agents descended on Kraft’s offices near Chicago and confronted Watson. He admitted his role in a bribery scheme that has laid bare a startling vein of corruption in the food industry. And because the scheme also involved millions of pounds of tomato products with high levels of mold or other defects, the case has raised serious questions about how well food manufacturers safeguard the quality of their ingredients. Over the last 14 months, Watson and three other purchasing managers, at Frito-Lay, Safeway and B&G Foods, have pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Five people connected to one of the nation’s largest tomato processors, SK Foods, have also admitted taking part in the scheme. Now, federal prosecutors in California have taken aim at the owner of SK Foods, who they say spearheaded the far-reaching plot. The man, Frederick Scott Salyer, was arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York City on February 4 after getting off a flight from Switzerland. He was indicted last week on racketeering, fraud and obstruction of justice charges.