Prosecutor: Plant owner OK’d tainted peanut sales
ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — The owner of a Georgia peanut plant where a deadly salmonella outbreak originated five years ago approved sales of tainted food “whatever the risk,” including shipments known to have tested positive for the bacteria and others sent with fake lab results and no real confirmation the products were safe to eat, a prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments in the food-poisoning trial Thursday.
Former Peanut Corporation owner Stewart Parnell and two co-defendants have been on trial in U.S. District Court since Aug. 1. Now, after more than five weeks of testimony from nearly 50 witnesses, plus an estimated 1,000 documents introduced as evidence, the jury will soon decide whether the defendants committed crimes that led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
Investigators concluded nine people died from salmonella lurking in food traced back to the company’s plant in rural Blakely, and 714 got sick. Experts say it’s the first time food processors have stood trial in federal court in a food poisoning case.
Prosecutors say Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, shipped peanuts and peanut butter they knew had tested positive for salmonella to customers that used them as ingredients in products from peanut butter crackers to pet food. The Parnell brothers are also charged with faking lab results for salmonella and other contaminants so they wouldn’t have to wait for real testing.