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US salmonella trial results in guilty verdict for food executive

One of first corporate criminal convictions relating to food safety is announced in America

Peanut butter products were contaminated with salmonella

22 September 2014

The former head of peanut-processing company in the US has been found guilty of charges relating to a fatal salmonella outbreak.

A seven week trial in Albany, Georgia ended in a guilty verdict for Stewart Parnell, former owner of Peanut Corp, who was found guilty of covering up the fact that many of the company’s products were contaminated with salmonella.  

Nine people died and more than 700 became ill after eating peanut butter or other products from the company.

This is the first time in the US that a corporate executive has been found guilty of criminal offences under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 

Food safety in the UK

In the UK a raft of EU and UK legislation exists that governs the safety of the country’s food chain.  

Unsafe food laws in the UK

The Food Standards Act 1999 led to the establishment of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England and Wales whose main function is to protect public health in relation to food. The FSA publishes alerts on food product recalls and withdrawals when it becomes aware that there is a problem associated with a particular food.

The Food Safety Act 1990 and the General Food Regulations 2004 set out the offences and penalties incurred for the supply of food that is unfit for human consumption

In the UK restaurants, food outlets and food production units are regularly inspected by local trading standards officials, and local authorities are audited by the Food Standards Agency.  

Following recent scandals such as the presence of unlabelled horse meat in a number of supermarket ready meals, and concerns about the presence of campylobacter in supermarket chickens some consumer groups have said that the FSA is under undue pressure from the food industry, and is failing to regulate the food chain effectively .  

A report on food security commissioned by the Government was published in September 2014 and made a number of recommendations, including the setting up of a Food Crime Unit.

Food poisoning cases

  • In 2007 a Welsh butcher, William Tudor, was sentenced to a 12 month prison sentence for food safety offences. This followed a fatal outbreak of E. coli which left over 150 people ill and led to the death of five year old Mason Jones. During his trial the court heard evidence of his "careless and make-do" approach to food hygiene.
  • A pub company, Mitchells and Butlers, and two members of staff, have appeared in court following the death of a women who ate a Christmas Day meal at the Railway Hotel in Hornchurch.  More than 30 other people became ill.  The company and staff members are facing allegations that they supplied food that was unfit for human consumption.

UK food safety lawyer Tina Patel said:

“I welcome this judgment.  I hope that it serves to highlight to others in the food industry that food safety is paramount.  

“The penalties that courts can impose both in the US and UK should provide a deterrent to those compromising the safety of food.”

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