ConAgra Agrees to Plead Guilty, Pay $11.2 Million for Peter Pan Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak

The sum is the largest criminal fine in a food safety case, the Justice Department confirmed

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The plea agreement includes a criminal fine of $8 million and assets forfeited totalling $3.2 million.

ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha-based packaged foods corporation — whose brands include Blue Bonnet, Chef Boyardee, Fleischmann’s, Kid Cuisine, Manwich, and Hebrew National, among others — has agreed to pay $11.2 million and take responsibility for the salmonella outbreak between 2006 and 2007 that was linked to Peter Pan peanut butter, produced in Sylvester, Georgia.

In 2007, Peter Pan peanut butter and all Great Value peanut butter (produced by ConAgra for Walmart) was linked to a salmonella outbreak that spread across 44 states and made more than 700 people ill, a number of whom were later hospitalized. No deaths resulted from the outbreak.

According to Food Safety News, “The problem was traced to an old peanut roaster not uniformly heating, a storm-damaged sugar silo which was permitting the entry of birds and insects, and a leaky roof, which may have allowed moisture into the production process.”

In the months following the recall, the production facility was upgraded, and ConAgra took steps to initiate “more robust food safety practices at every step of its production.”

The company will plead guilty to a single misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The plea agreement must still be accepted by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

The proposed fine is the largest sum ever paid in a U.S. food safety case, according to the Justice Department.

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