Posted July 15, 2015
After several deadly outbreaks food, the Justice Department is warning food companies that they could face criminal and civil penalties if they poison their customers, according to a U.S. News article available here. MSN also posted an article available hereand Mercury News here.
“We have made a priority holding individuals and companies responsible when they fail to live up to their obligations that they have to protect the safety of the food that all ofof us eat,” said Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery.
In a high-profile case last year, a federal court in Georgia found an executive for the Peanut Corporation of America guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, wire fraud and other crimes after his company shipped out salmonella-tainted peanuts that sickened more than 700 and killed nine in 2008 and 2009.
Delery, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, would not say whether the government has plans to pursue charges against Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries after listeria in the company’s ice cream was linked to illnesses and three deaths. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation found that Blue Bell knew that it had listeria in one of its plants for almost two years prior to the recall, according to Mercury News.
“We’re committed to staying on top of outbreaks and evaluating potential cases as the evidence warrants.” Delery said of the Blue Bell investigation and other recent outbreaks.
Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer, says Justice’s recent activity is especially notable because in many of the cases, company executives were not aware of the tainted food, but they were hit with criminal charges anyway, according to MSN.
“It’s been very much of a sea change,” said Marler. “Once you start down this road you have to decide whether you are going to do it all the time or selectively.”
Delery notes the department has pursued some of these companies with laws that are not directly related to food safety, such as those prohibiting wire or mail fraud.
In his effort to warn food companies, Delery spoke to food manufacturers at a safety meeting in Dallas last month. He said the majority of American food is safe, but “even a tiny minority” can cause harm.
For more information on food safety, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.