In the wake of recent foodborne illness scares, the United States is cracking down on companies that have prior knowledge of tainted foodstuffs in a more aggressive way: through criminal charges.
Last week, ConAgra Grocery Products (a division of ConAgra Foods) pleaded guilty to charges filed by the Justice Department linked to a 2006-2007 outbreak of salmonella in Peter Pan peanut butter, which sickened over 70 people across the country.
“[The company] admitted in the plea agreement that samples obtained after the recall showed that peanut butter made at the Sylvester plant on nine different dates between August 4, 2006, and January 29, 2007…were contaminated with salmonella,” according the Corporate Crime Reporter.
The criminal fine (to the tune of $11.2 million) is currently the largest ever paid to date.
The case may indicate a sea change for food safety laws across the country, as the government steps up its monitoring as a means of protecting public health and safety.
In addition to Peter Pan, below are some of the most notorious and widespread foodborne illness outbreaks in recent history, from fast food to the freezer aisle.
Jalisco Cheese, 1985 (Listeria)
Queso fresco was the vehicle for the deadliest Listeria outbreak in America to date, which resulted in 52 deaths across California and stemmed from a non-licensed technician pasteurizing raw milk to make the soft cheese. (Photo: Flickr)
Jack in the Box, 1993 (E. Coli)
732 people across the Western U.S. were sickened by an E. Coli outbreak resulting from the sale of undercooked beef patties at the fast food chain. Four children died as a result of the poisoning, and hundreds more were left with permanent kidney or brain damage. (Photo: Trip Advisor)
Odwalla, 1996 (E. Coli)
In the 1990s, Odwalla made their juices in a more natural (and dangerous) fashion—unpasteurized. “Low levels” of listeria were discovered at their factory in 1995, but it wasn’t until an outbreak of E. Coli brought on by the use of rotten fruit in their unpasteurized apple juice that the company got serious about food safety. (Photo: Coca-Cola)
Chi-Chis, 2003 (Hepatitis A)
Tainted green onions from Mexico were the source of the worst Hepatitis A outbreak in United States history, which sickened hundreds of diners and resulted in four deaths. The outbreak eventually forced the once-booming Midwest Tex-Mex empire to go completely belly up. (Photo: Flickr)
Blue Bell, 2015 (Listeria)
All our concerns are focused firmly on ice cream today, as Blue Bell announced a total recall of their product last month after reported cases of food poisoning across multiple states. While the company has yet to go out of business, they recently announced a more than 30% reduction in their workforce. (Photo: Blue Bell)