About 10 years ago, ConAgra’s Peter Pan brand peanut butter sickened hundreds of consumers in a multi-state Salmonella outbreak. Now, the food giant is heading to court to complete an $11.2 million settlement--the largest criminal fine ever ordered in a U.S. food safety case.

A multi-state peanut butter outbreak was announced in 2006, followed by a massive peanut butter recall in 2007. More than 600 people fell ill in 47 states when a Sylvester, Georgia peanut plant produced Salmonella-tainted peanut butter products for then Omaha-based ConAgra Foods. The company, now headquartered in Chicago, goes by the name ConAgra Brands. The outbreak also affected Walmart’s Great Value branded peanut butter.

A leaky roof and a faulty sprinkler system lead to excess moisture, causing Salmonella bacteria to unknowingly grow on raw peanuts, according to ConAgra officials.

As it currently stands, a U.S. District Court judge will decide in a hearing on Tuesday whether or not to approve ConAgra’s pending plea deal settlement. The agreement states that ConAgra Grocery Products Company--a subsidiary of ConAgra--will plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of shipping adulterated food. To date, no ConAgra executives have been implicated or brought up on charges. ConAgra has always maintained that the company was not aware that it’s peanut butter was contaminated prior to shipping.

The $11.2 million settlement includes an $8 million fine--a precedent in the U.S. food safety industry--along with a $3.2 million forfeiture to be paid to the federal government.

Related articles:
Sticky Situation: ConAgra to Pay $11.2 Million for Shipping Contaminated Peanut Butter

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