ConAgra Grocery Products LLC, a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods Inc., has agreed to enter a guilty plea and pay $11.2 million in connection with a nationwide outbreak of salmonella poisoning related to peanut butter in 2006-2007, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
More than 700 cases of salmonellosis were linked to the outbreak, which was traced to the Peter Pan brand and private label peanut butter produced and shipped from the company's production facility in Sylvester, Georgia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that thousands of additional related cases went unreported.
No deaths were linked to the outbreak.
The company was accused of supplying peanut butter that was adulterated, in that it contained salmonella and had been prepared under conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with salmonella.
In the plea agreement, the ConAgra subsidiary admitted that samples obtained after the recall showed that peanut butter made at the Sylvester plant on nine different dates between August 4, 2006, and January 29, 2007, was contaminated with salmonella. Environmental testing conducted after the recall identified the same strain of salmonella in at least nine locations throughout the Sylvester plant, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
The company also admitted, as part of the plea agreement, that it had previously been aware of a risk of salmonella contamination in peanut butter produced at the Sylvester facility.
Since the outbreak, the company has made significant upgrades to the plant to address potential factors that could contribute to salmonella contamination. It has also introduced new and enhanced safety protocols and procedures regarding manufacturing, testing and sanitation, which will remain in place.
"No company can let down its guard when it comes to these kinds of microbiological contaminants," commented Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Division. "Salmonellosis is a serious condition, and a food like peanut butter can deliver it straight to children and other vulnerable populations."