I haven’t written about it previously, but I’ve been following the peanut products tainted with salmonella outbreak closely since it started. I figured once it was traced back to the source it would be discovered that it was the result of incompetence or ignorance, but not outright criminal negligence. As it turns out I was wrong as the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, one Mr. Stewart Parnell, has been testifying thanks to a congressional subpoena. Emails and other documentation showed that after one lab said there was contamination of his products he hunted around for another lab to give them the all clear and then shipped the tainted products out:
“Turn them loose,” Parnell had told his plant manager in an internal e-mail disclosed at the House hearing. The e-mail referred to products that once were deemed contaminated but were cleared in a second test last year.
[…] The House panel released e-mails obtained by its investigators showing Parnell ordered products identified with salmonella to be shipped and quoting his complaints that tests discovering the contaminated food were “costing us huge $$$$$.”
Not that appearing before congress accomplished much as Parnell invoked the fifth amendment on every question:
“Did you or any officials ever place food products into interstate commerce you knew to be contaminated with salmonella?” asked Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the U.S. Constitution,” said Parnell.
Moments later, as Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company’s products wrapped in crime-scene tape and asked if he would eat them.
Again, Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment.
The rest of the article makes it clear this man was more concerned about making money than the health of the customers that would eventually consume his product. Rather than fix the problem he just found a lab that would clear the product:
Cowart said she made one visit to the plant at the company’s request and pointed out problems with peanut roasting and storage of peanuts that could have led to the salmonella. She testified that Peanut Corp. officials said they believed the salmonella came from organic Chinese peanuts.
An FDA inspection report had placed the earliest presence of salmonella in June 2007, the first of a dozen times the company received private lab results identifying the bacteria in its products.
Cowart said she believed Peanut Corp. stopped using her company for lab tests because it identified salmonella too many times.
The company’s internal records show it “was more concerned with its bottom line than the safety of its customers,” said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
To date 600 people have contracted salmonella from products made from the tainted peanuts and 9 have died from it. Sales of peanut butter are down 25% since the outbreak started. The man should be locked up for a very long time and his company turned over to someone much more responsible.