A 2008 salmonella outbreak caused by tainted peanut butter is the subject of a trial currently underway in Georgia. The outbreak, which sickened 700 people and killed at least nine more, led to one of the largest food recalls in US history. Our Atlanta product liability attorneys have been following the case, which made the news again this week.
The 76-count indictment names Michael Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corporation of America, Mary Wilkerson, the plant’s quality assurance manager, and another former manager, Samuel Lightsey. The indictment accuses the company of shipping tainted products and hiding lab tests that showed they contained salmonella. Wilkerson is also charged with obstructing justice.
Lightsey pled guilty in May, agreeing to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence. In six days of testimony, Lightsey spoke of how the Peanut Corporation of America shipped contaminated products with falsified documents stating they were free of salmonella, and of the presence of mold and mildew within the plant. He also told the court of how employees used a pellet gun to shoot birds that got inside the plant.
This week, Parnell’s attorney grilled Lightsey over his role in running the plant on a day-to-day basis. Concerning Ms. Wilkerson’s role in assisting the Food and Drug Administration, Lightsey admitted that, while he lied to FDA investigators, Ms. Wilkerson tried to assist them in finding documents. Defense attorneys asked Mr. Lightsey to review pre-salmonella outbreak audits, which showed that the plant received good marks from inspectors. They also asked why, out of thousands of lab reports, only about a dozen indicated positive tests for salmonella. The defense also pointed to Lightsey’s plea deal, which stipulated that, in exchange for assisting the prosecution, he could avoid a jail sentence.
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