FILE - This Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 file photo, shows the Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. (AP Photo/Elliott Minor)
FILE - In this March 12, 2009 file photo, Peanut Corporation of America's president Stewart Parnell arrives at federal court in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Don Petersen, File)
Michael Parnell walks out of federal court in Albany, GA. (Source: WALB)
Mary Wilkerson walks into federal court in Albany, GA.
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -
Food experts say food will be safer thanks to stiff sentences handed down to peanut executives in the wake of a deadly salmonella outbreak.
Former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) CEO Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison after being convicted for his role in knowingly shipping tainted peanut products that led to a salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009.
His food broker brother Michael Parnell was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and plant Quality Assurance Manager Mary Wilkerson was sentenced to five years.
Food safety experts say the sentence made a big impact on food and the companies that make it.
"It sends a very strong message all over the country, and frankly all over the world that poisoning your customers is a really bad idea," said Food Safety Attorney Bill Marler.
The Food Modernization Act was passed in 2010, on the heels of the salmonella outbreak linked to the PCA plant in Blakely, GA that was blamed for the deaths of 9 people and sickened hundreds, making manufacturers more responsible.
"In the future the food companies are supposed to take responsibility for their products and take steps to make sure their product is safe before it goes on the market," said David Plunkett, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest David Plunkett. "This should cut down on the number of illnesses and the outbreaks like the PCA outbreak."
The danger of Salmonella is better understood after the PCA outbreak, but food experts want more regulations to protect consumers.
"It's kind of interesting that salmonella on peanuts is a crime," said Plunkett. "But salmonella on chicken is perfectly legal. And that's doesn't make any sense to consumers."
Food experts say Americans can have confidence in their food, but it's not perfect.
"We have more to do. Our food supply is safe, but it can be safer," Marler said.
Experts are now calling for more money to be put in the federal budget for inspections of food manufacturing, to make sure the new laws work, and nothing like the PCA outbreak happens again.
According to the CDC, 48 million Americans are sickened by food borne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year.