Federal officials had some rough news yesterday for disgraced former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, who’s really come to regret telling workers back in 2007 to “shit, just ship” peanut butter he knew had salmonella. They’re going to recommend Parnell’s sentence as life in prison — a first for a food-safety crime.
The epic outbreak, which stretched from 2008 to 2009, caused nine deaths, sickened at least 714 people, and hospitalized a fourth of them, setting off one of America’s all-time most massive recalls. Parnell’s been awaiting sentencing since the fall, when he was convicted of 71 out of 76 felony counts (fraud, obstruction of justice, etc., etc.) for pretending there was no salmonella in Peanut Corp.’s products. Theoretically, his crimes carry a maximum sentence of 754 years in prison and $17 million in fines, and the judge at one point even labeled Parnell a flight risk.
No one really thought he’d get a sentence anywhere near that harsh, though, so the court’s recommendation of life behind bars has made waves. With ice cream dominating a lot of 2015’s recall headlines, the feds are in the middle of a “sea change” to crack down on food safety. A lawyer who’s represented some of the victims tells the AP, “Life in prison, especially for a food case, it’s frankly unprecedented. But the case itself, on a factual basis, is unprecedented.”
Parnell’s attorney, who’s promised an appeal, went a little further: “That recommendation is truly absurd.”