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Criminal indictments for deadly 2009 salmonella outbreak

In most product liability situations, when a defective or dangerous product is found, the item; a drug, a child's crib or food item that injures people, will be recalled, and lawsuits may be filed by those injured to recover compensation. This is because the typical product recall involves something that was negligently designed or sloppily manufactured.

When contaminated food products are recalled, the source of the contamination usually was not discovered until after the product had been shipped and placed in the hands of consumers. In an unusual case in Georgia last month, four former executives of a peanut processing company were charged with a 76-count criminal indictment for fraud and conspiracy for selling peanut products the indictment alleges they knew were contaminated with salmonella.

The salmonella outbreak occurred in 2009, was one of the largest in recent years, involved hundreds of peanut products across the nation and infected people in 46 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people died, including three in Minnesota, 714 people were made sick, a quarter of which required hospitalization.

This case is unusual in receiving criminal charges, because on the intentional element of the actions of the company. The shipped peanut product after tests found it was contaminated and they altered lab results.

The Associated Press reported that the four charged in the indictment pled innocent this week, and the prosecutor indicated to the court that if convicted, the brothers who ran the company could face between 437 and 754 years in prison and $10 to $17 million in fines.

The indictment shows a reckless disregard towards their potential customers, literally placing profits above people's lives. If proven, the prison time and fines would be well deserved.

Source: Associated Press, "4 charged in salmonella outbreak plead innocent," James L. Rosica and Kate Brumback, February 28, 2013

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