US & Canada

US salmonella outbreak: Peanut boss jailed for 28 years

Stewart Parnell, the ex-owner of the Peanut Corporation of America Image copyright AP
Image caption Parnell's family had asked the judge to show mercy in the sentencing

A former peanut company executive has been jailed for 28 years in the US for his role in a national salmonella outbreak linked to nine deaths.

Stewart Parnell, 61, the ex-owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, was convicted last year of knowingly shipping tainted products.

His brother Michael, who worked as a food broker, was given 20 years.

The outbreak made hundreds ill and prompted one of the largest food recalls in US history.

The brothers were charged after investigators traced the outbreak to the company's plant in Blakely, Georgia in 2009.

'I am morally disgraced'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said those who died had eaten tainted peanut butter, but could not say for certain that salmonella caused the deaths.

Inspectors found a leaky roof, cockroaches, and evidence of rats at the plant.

Prosecutors accused managers of creating fake certificates saying the food was safe when it either had not been tested or had been found to be contaminated.

"These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit," Judge Louis Sands said. "This is commonly and accurately referred to as greed.''

Image copyright AP
Image caption The outbreak bankrupted the company

A former quality control manager at the plant, Mary Wilkerson, was also sentenced to five years in prison.

During the trial, Stewart Parnell apologised and asked for forgiveness, saying "I am personally embarrassed, humiliated and morally disgraced by what happened".

The court also heard from victims and their relatives, such as Jeff Almer whose 72-year-old mother died. He told Parnell: "You took my mom."

Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, headaches, stomach cramps and fever, with infants and the elderly particularly at risk of developing a serious infection.

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