A former food-company owner/executive will face sentencing on Monday, and he could find himself jailed for the rest of his life. Stewart Parnell had already been found guilty of knowingly selling peanut butter contaminated with salmonella, and is facing 28 years behind bars.
Given that Parnell’s actions lead to the deaths of at least nine people, and resulted in hundreds more becoming seriously ill, the sentence should come as no surprise. A jury already had found Mr. Parnell guilty of 71 different charges and on Monday a judge ordered him to spend 28 years behind bars.
Given than Mr. Parnell is already 61 years old, there’s a good chance that he’ll never taste freedom again. For the families of those that died, this stiff sentence largely came as good news. Numerous families pleaded for harsh sentences.
A plant manager was also sentenced to five years in jail and Mr. Parnell’s brother, Michael Parnell, was sentenced to twenty years. The brother had acted as a broker and sold salmonella-laced peanut butter to Kellogg’s.
The stiff penalties come as a result of the blatant disregard for safety by those involved in the case. When Parnell found out that the peanut butter at his plant was contaminated with salmonella, he reportedly told his plant manager in 2007 to “just ship it.” Parnell’s blatant disregard for people’s’ lives was his ultimate downfall with Federal authorities deciding to pursue the case to its fullest.
In the past, Federal authorities have generally charged business owners and managers with misdemeanors. Even when lives were lost, most business managers were able to walk away with a slap on their wrists. Proving food poisoning cases in court is inherently difficult, as business leaders have generally been able to claim that it was an accident, or someone else’s fault.
Parnell, however, left a long chain of emails and other documents. This time around Federal prosecutors decided to roll the dice and see if they could make felony charges stick. And this time the gamble paid off. The potential life-sentence faced by Parnell would be the stiffest sentence ever handed to a business leader under such circumstances.
Salmonella poisoning is the most common food-borne illness in the United States, causing more than one million people per year to get sick, as well as roughly 19,000 hospitalizations and nearly four hundred deaths.
The most recent salmonella outbreak was linked to cucumbers, and so far hundreds of people have fallen ill.