Stewart Parnell, the 61-year-old former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, has been given a 28-year prison sentence for his role in a nationwide salmonella outbreak between 2008 and 2009.
The outbreak, facilitated by the widespread distribution of peanut butter which Parnell and his associates knew to be contaminated with salmonella, resulted in nine deaths and more than 700 illnesses.
Parnell and his brother Michael were later caught faking lab results to show that samples from the Peanut Corporation tested negative for salmonella. At the time, PCA products were used by nearly 400 companies including Trader Joe’s and Kellogg’s.
Parnell received the first-ever felony conviction for a food safety crime, according to Food Safety Magazine, and originally faced a life sentence for his participation in the deadly outbreak. Michael Parnell, the CEO’s brother and lieutenant, has been sentenced to 20 years for his contribution to the outbreak — including suppling PCA products to Kellogg’s — and Mary Wilkerson, a former quality-control manager for the company, has received a five-year sentence.
Although Parnell’s legal team fought for leniency, the case is a major benchmark for the justice system, which aims to make an example of Parnell, an executive who knowingly put public health at risk for the sake of continued profits. In 2009, PCA filed for bankruptcy amid a growing number of recalls.