For his role in a salmonella outbreak that was sparked by contamination in his company’s product, sickened hundreds and killed at least nine, the former president of the Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced this week to 28 years in prison, the harshest penalty ever imposed in a food safety case. This case highlights both the federal government’s increasing prosecution of individuals in relation to corporate misconduct and the serious consequences that can result from adulteration or misbranding of food products.

The sentencing of Stewart Parnell followed his conviction last year for violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by blatantly violating good manufacturing practice requirements, knowingly distributing adulterated food that posed a risk of death or serious injury to consumers even after internal tests revealed the contamination, and conspiring with others to deny and cover up the contamination. The government also used the Park doctrine, which renders FDCA violations strict liability crimes for corporate officials in positions of responsibility or authority.

An understanding of this case, particularly the factors that may encourage federal authorities to pursue civil or criminal action against a company for FDCA violations, can help both importers and domestic producers as they work to develop or maintain policies and procedures that promote compliance with U.S. food safety rules. Due diligence reviews of GMP programs, FDA inspection preparedness and safety considerations can identify areas where improvement is needed, and recall and other response plans can help address any such problems in a timely manner. In-house training on obtaining approvals and clearances, submitting post-market and adverse event reports, and complying with other statutory and regulatory requirements are also vital elements.

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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