The former owner of a peanut company in Georgia on Monday was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds, a rare instance of jail time in a food contamination case in the US.
Stewart Parnell, 61, who once oversaw Peanut Corporation of America, and his brother, Michael Parnell, 56, who was a food broker on the company’s behalf, were convicted on federal conspiracy charges in September last year for knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanuts to customers.
Contamination at the company’s plant in Blakely, Georgia, led to one of the largest food recalls in US history and forced the company into liquidation.
US District Judge Louis Sands gave Michael Parnell 20 years in prison.
Mary Wilkerson, 41, a former quality control manager at the plant who was found guilty of obstruction, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Stewart Parnell faced life in prison and his brother faced about 24 years.
The US Department of Justice described Stewart Parnell’s sentence as the most severe ever given in a food safety case.
Before the judge issued the sentences, Stewart Parnell said: “This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I’m truly, truly sorry for what’s happened.”
Stewart Parnell’s attorney, Tom Bondurant Jr, vowed to appeal, contending that the sentences were too harsh. Under federal rules, the defendants are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for parole.
“Given the ages of these two men, this is a life sentence,” Bondurant said.
The Parnells have said they never knowingly endangered customers.
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