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September 15, 2014

Mass salmonella poisoning by the Peanut Corporation of America [UPDATE 2]

When nine people died and 4,000 products were recalled because of salmonella in peanuts, my years of writing and teaching about white collar crime told me there was significant wrongdoing here. Unfortunately, media did not really put together a long form narrative, so I have put this together over time with some help and encouragement.

UPDATE 1: The jury has convicted the ringleaders at PCA and found them guilty on many counts, which is good and what they deserved. News stories tend to have a quote about how this will send a message to other food producers. I think the message is more subtle because the indictment was mostly about fraud against Kellogg's and other corporations; the nine people who died were not mentioned in the indictment or at trial. I think the take away is that if you are a small food producer, don't screw with Fortune 500 companies. Perhaps I am cynical, but would the criminal charges have happened and would they have been found guilty of crimes if they had sold directly to the public and killed nine, hospitalized 166 and officially sickened 714?


UPDATE 2: The journal article has been published: Mass Salmonella Poisoning by the Peanut Corporation of America: State-Corporate Crime Involving Food Safety. Critical Criminology, 2015. DOI 10.1007/s10612-015-9284-5.

ABSTRACT: Animal feces in food causes outbreaks of salmonella poisoning, whose assault on the body results in several days of diarrhea, vomiting and even death. This paper looks at the massive distribution of salmonella-contaminated peanuts in 2008–2009 that caused nine deaths, 11,000–20,000 illnesses and the recall of 4000 products in the US. The Peanut Corporation of America operated filthy, sometimes unregistered, plants and shipped products to major food manufacturers and schools after receiving test results positive for salmonella. This corporate crime was facilitated by substantial weaknesses in regulation, and is thus a state-facilitated corporate crime. This case study is developed by looking at the peanut plant conditions, decisions of executives, regulatory failure, and overall response. The conclusion asks about the puzzle of the state responding to a crime it facilitated, and how to understand the role a corporation victimizing another corporation plays into the response.


Mass Salmonella Poisoning by the Peanut Corporation of America: State-Corporate Crime Involving Food Safety...


The piece below is an excerpt from the longer journal article. It focuses on the problems at the plant and their frauds with the Certificates of Analysis. For better or worse, it is an earlier draft, with more - and perhaps too much detail. Between this background piece, the Congressional hearings, and coverage from Food Safety News, readers should be able to find as much info as they want. 

Crimes of the Peanut Corporation of America: Mass salmonella poisoning, 2008-9


People often see white collar and corporate crime as being nonviolent, but the victims can experience substantial physical suffering. These blog entries may have too much medical info for some, but the give great insight into what death from salmonella poisoning looks like. Yes, Stewart Parnell and PCA, You Killed People with Salmonella Peanut Butter  and Yes, Stewart Parnell, You Killed Bobby Ray Too With Salmonella Peanuts ("additional bouts of green, foul-smelling diarrhea" sounds like it should be a violent crime).

Remember that authorities had the DNA fingerprint of the salmonella from his body, and it matched the salmonella from PCA products. But the criminal indictment, when it finally came, was for fraud against major food companies. The nine dead were not mentioned, and because they were not in the indictment the defense could not bring them up at the trial.

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