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Food Safety Problems Yield Criminal Investigation Against Restaurant Chain

Friday, January 08, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A U.S. district court has served a restaurant chain with a grand jury subpoena in connection with a federal criminal investigation into a food safety incident at one of the chain’s stores. This development, like a separate recent case in which a food company executive was sentenced to 28 years in prison, highlights the serious consequences that can result from food safety problems.

The subpoena requires the chain to produce a broad range of documents related to a store that experienced a norovirus incident in August 2015. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission the chain held open the possibility that it could incur fines, penalties or further liabilities in connection with this investigation. The chain also acknowledged that foodborne illnesses like the one at issue, as well as other outbreaks it has suffered in recent months that have drawn widespread negative publicity, carries the risk of lowering “consumers’ acceptance of and enthusiasm for” its brand. These risks could be further heightened if the chain is indicted and brought to trial.

An understanding of this case, particularly the factors that may encourage federal authorities to pursue civil or criminal action, can help companies as they work to develop or maintain policies and procedures that promote compliance with U.S. food safety rules. Due diligence reviews of good manufacturing practice programs, Food and Drug Administration inspection preparedness and safety considerations can identify areas where improvement is needed, and response plans can help address any such problems in a timely manner. In-house training is also a vital element.

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg’s seasoned food safety professionals can assist companies with these and other related services. Contact Shelly Garg at (305) 894-1043 for more information.

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