WASHINGTON, D.C. (WALB) - ConAgra Foods has agreed to plead guilty and pay $11.2 million in connection to shipping contaminated peanut butter linked to a nationwide outbreak of salmonella more than eight years ago.
Documents of the plea deal with federal prosecutors filed Wednesday said the company knowingly shipped Peter Pan and private label peanut butter from its Sylvester, GA plant.
ConAgra was charged as a company, and no employees were charged, according to the plea agreement documents.
In February 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that salmonella cases in the United States could be traced back to the company's Sylvester plant.
It was blamed for sickening more than 600 people in 47 states.
ConAgra Grocery Products will pay a criminal fine of $8 million and forfeit assets of $3.2 million. The criminal fine is the largest ever paid in a food safety case.
"We, as consumers, take for granted that the food we feed our families is safe," said U.S. Attorney Moore. "We count on the companies who prepare and package the things we eat to be just as concerned with the product we put in our mouths as they are with the profit they put in their pockets."
As part of the plea agreement, the company admitted that it had previously been aware of some risk of salmonella contamination in peanut butter.
ConAgra also admitted that some of the employees charged with analyzing finished product tests at the Sylvester plant failed to detect salmonella. They also said some of the employees did not know how to properly read the test results.
The Sylvester plant was voluntarily shut down in 2007 and officials recalled all peanut butter manufactured since January 2004.
After the outbreak and shutdown, the company cleaned and made significant upgrades to the plant to address conditions identified that could contribute to salmonella contamination.
The Sylvester plant reopened several weeks after it shut down.