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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

DeCosters Heading to Prison for Salmonella Egg Outbreak

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.11.16 PMBeing in New Zealand, some 17 hours and a day ahead of the U.S. Midwest, should have given me a slight advantage of knowing what was happening in the U.S., but I missed a call from AP’s David Pitt for a comment on a court ruling that is making food executives take notice.

As David wrote, the U.S. Supreme Court declined in May to hear the appeals of Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, without comment. Both have been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett to serve three months in prison. The sentences jarred the food and drug manufacturing industry because it’s rare that corporate officials are held personally responsible for an outbreak of foodborne illness.

Bennett in his 68-page sentencing opinion filed in April 2015 concluded that prison time was necessary to deter officials from marketing unsafe food.

“Given the defendants’ careless oversight and repeated violations of safety standards, there is an increased likelihood that these offenses, or offenses like these, could happen again,” he wrote. “The punishment will also serve to effectively deter against the marketing of unsafe foods and widespread harm to public health by similarly situated corporate officials and other executives in the industry.”

Last week Bennett ordered 53-year-old Peter DeCoster to report to the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota, a minimum security facility that is about 200 miles west of his home in Clarion, Iowa. DeCoster must surrender himself to authorities after July 30 when he is notified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons the facility is ready to receive him.

His 83-year-old father Austin “Jack” DeCoster must serve his three-month term 30 days after Peter is released. He must report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin, New Hampshire, a location Bennett approved at DeCoster’s request. DeCoster, who says he has several medical issues including prostate cancer, has moved from Iowa to Maine and the medium-security prison camp is about 70 miles from his home.

The DeCosters, who have already paid $100,000 each in criminal penalties, also owe $83,000 in restitution, according to court documents. Quality Egg paid a $6.8 million fine after pleading guilty to felony charges of shipping eggs with false processing and expiration dates and bribing a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector to approve sales of poor-quality eggs.