ConAgra agrees to pay $11.2 million in Peter Pan case

by Jeff Gelski
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The company pleads guilty to shipping peanut butter with Salmonella in 2006-07.

ALBANY, GA. — ConAgra Foods, Inc. has agreed to pay $11,211,000 to resolve a case involving a Salmonella outbreak in Peter Pan peanut butter that happened more than eight years ago.

ConAgra Foods pled guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, a strict liability misdemeanor, according to a May 20 court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division. The count involved ConAgra Grocery Products Co., L.L.C., a ConAgra Foods subsidiary, shipping peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella between Oct. 6, 2006, and Feb. 14, 2007.

 ConAgra Foods agreed to pay a criminal fine of $8,011,000 to the Clerk of the U.S. District Court and to forfeit $3,200,000 to the U.S. Marshals Service. ConAgra Grocery Products, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia and the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice all agreed to the guilty plea.

In February 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced an outbreak of Salmonella infections throughout the United States to peanut butter shipped from a Sylvester, Ga., plant, owned and operated by ConAgra Grocery Products. The C.D.C. identified more than 700 illnesses of salmonellosis linked to the outbreak.

ConAgra immediately and voluntarily stopped production at the Sylvester plant on Feb. 14, 2007. The company also voluntarily recalled all peanut butter that had been manufactured at the plant since January 2004. To improve the Sylvester facility, ConAgra took such steps as replacing the roof of the facility and enhancing policies and procedures for the manufacture of peanut butter. Peter Pan peanut butter then was re-introduced to the market in August 2007.

ConAgra Foods on May 20 of this year said it was waiting to see if the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia accepts the plea.

Al Bolles, Ph.D., chief technical and operations officer for ConAgra Foods.

“We did not, and never will, knowingly ship a product that is not safe for consumers,” said Al Bolles, Ph.D., chief technical and operations officer for ConAgra Foods, on May 20. “We’ve invested heavily in leading-edge food safety technology and practices over the past eight years, and we are thankful for all of the people who recognize that and are loyal Peter Pan fans.

“ConAgra Foods took full responsibility in 2007, taking immediate steps to determine the potential causes of and solutions for the problem and acting quickly and definitively to inform and protect consumers. This incident brought to light previously unknown aspects of making safe peanut butter, and we have been passionate about sharing what we learned to help others join us in creating an even safer food supply. We will remain vigilant to maintain the trust we’ve worked so hard to earn from our consumers.”
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