It’s trite and cliched, but a food safety culture begins at the top of a company. CEOs, COOs, presidents and other business-y people have to value not making customers ill to really establish a working food safety program.
Most companies have internal conflicts on food safety priorities – but the good ones don’t let profits and market trump public health – like Stewart Parnell, former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) president did.
The shockingly poor food safety culture established by Parnell’s Salmonella-positive-just-ship-it mentality spread throughout the company, resulting in over 700 illnesses and 9 deaths linked to PCA’s products.
According to Korin Miller at Yahoo News, Parnell’s actions have led prosecutors to recommend a life sentence in prison.
The recommendation for his sentencing, which a lawyer for one of the victims called “unprecedented,” was revealed on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.
After a seven-week trial, Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, were both charged with 76 federal counts linked to intentionally shipping peanut products that tested positive for salmonella, CNN reports.
This case is disturbing because salmonella is so potentially dangerous, says food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University. “Not everybody who eats salmonella is going to get sick, but the issue is that you don’t know if you’re going to get sick,” he tells Yahoo Health. “That’s why we really don’t want to have salmonella in our food.”
So, while Parnell’s case is unprecedented, the proposed punishment does seem to fit the crime. “We saw through the trial that some really egregious things happened,” says Chapman. “It’s important that people who have knowingly done things to negatively effect other people’s health are held responsible and accountable — it sounds like that’s being done here.”