GA food distributor enters guilty plea in 2006 contaminated peanut butter outbreak

(WTVM) – A food distributor in Georgia that allegedly distributed peanut butter that contained salmonella has entered a guilty plea to the U.S. District Attorney's office on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a press release, ConAgra Grocery Products LLC, a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods Inc., agreed to plead guilty and may $11.2 million in connection with a shipment of contaminated peanut butter linked to a national outbreak of salmonella poisoning that occurred from 2006 through 2007, forcing a major recall of their product.

ConAgra Grocery Products LLC is based in Omaha, NE, with a manufacturing facility in Sylvester, GA.

Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department's Civil Division and U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore of the Middle District of Georgia announced the filing of a criminal information against ConAgra Grocery Products alleging a misdemeanor violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The criminal information, filed in the Middle District of Georgia, specifically alleges that on or about Dec. 7, 2006, the company shipped from Georgia to Texas peanut butter that was adulterated, in that it contained salmonella and had been prepared under conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with salmonella.

During the outbreak, the Sylvester plant had to shut down. During the investigation of the outbreak, it was discovered that between October 2004 and February 2007, employees at the Sylvester plant failed to detect salmonella in the peanut butter, and "that the company was unaware some of the employees did not know how to properly interpret the results of the tests."

Following the outbreak and shutdown, the company made significant upgrades to the Sylvester plant to address conditions the company identified after the 2004 incident as potential factors that could contribute to salmonella contamination.

The company also instituted new and enhanced safety protocols and procedures regarding manufacturing, testing and sanitation, which it affirmed in the plea agreement it would continue to follow.

The proposed plea agreement and recommended sentence is not final until accepted by the U.S. District Court.

For more details on the plea deal and other documents, you can visit the U.S. Department of Justice's full statement by clicking here.

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