WireAP_03399c68dbe44899989ee8829f71ddbc_16x9_992Are U.S. food manufacturers more at risk today of criminal charges – misdemeanor or felony – for shipping tainted products knowingly or not?

AP reports today that ConAgra Foods is likely to face a misdemeanor criminal charge now that the U.S. government has completed its investigation of the company’s 2007 Salmonella outbreak and peanut butter recall.

ConAgra recalled all its peanut butter in 2007 after its Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter was linked to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 628 people in 47 states. The peanut butter was produced at ConAgra’s Sylvester, Georgia, plant.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Georgia, Pam Lightsey, said Tuesday that prosecutors plan to reveal details of the investigation Wednesday.

ConAgra spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen declined to comment Tuesday, but the company previously has said it was negotiating an end to the investigation that would likely include a misdemeanor charge of shipping tainted products.

At the time of ConAgra’s recall, it was unusual for peanut butter to be implicated in a disease outbreak. At the time of the recall, ConAgra officials blamed moisture in the production plant for helping Salmonella bacteria on the raw peanuts grow. The company said the roof leaked during a storm and the sprinkler system malfunctioned, which allowed the moisture in. The production plant was upgraded and ConAgra adopted new testing procedures.

If the Omaha, Nebraska, food-maker is charged criminally, the case would extend a recent string of high-profile food safety prosecutions.

  • Earlier this year, two former Iowa egg industry executives were sentenced to three months in jail for misdemeanor criminal charges and fined $7,000,000 stemming from a 2010 Salmonella outbreak.
  • Last year, two Colorado cantaloupe farmers were plead guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges and received five years probation in a deadly 2011 Listeria outbreak.
  • Also, Last year the former owners and executives of Peanut Corporation of America were convicted of felony charges of knowingly shipping Salmonella-tainted peanut butter in a 2009 Salmonella outbreak.

It does raise the question about why these companies have been charged, but others not?