A bill providing tougher punishments for those who knowingly distribute or fail to report tainted food ingredients has been approved by the Georgia state House.
The bill was introduced in the state last year in response to the salmonella outbreak linked to a peanut processor in South Georgia. More than 700 people became sick and nine died as a result of the outbreak that was traced to peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely. The nuts had been processed and incorporated in thousands of products nationwide, leading to one of the largest food recalls in history.
HB 883 – the Sanitary Activity for Food-Processing Enterprises (SAFE) Act – was approved by the state House on Tuesday by a margin of 142-20, and has now been referred to the Senate. If passed into law, the bill would make it a felony to knowingly distribute a contaminated food product, and transgressors would face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. The bill would also make it a misdemeanor to fail to report food contamination to food safety authorities within 24 hours.
The SAFE Act was prompted by the scandal surrounding the Peanut Corporation of America salmonella outbreak last year. Internal emails revealed that the company’s president Stewart Parnell had known that peanut products were contaminated, but instructed his staff to “turn them loose”.
Parnell had also expressed concern about the cost of holding and retesting products after a batch of peanut meal tested positive for salmonella.
Parnell told the Blakely plant manager in an email: “We need to discuss this…the time lapse, besides the cost is costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice.”
The incident was echoed later in the year when the FDA alleged that Setton Pistachio, a Californian pistachio processor, knew that some of its products had tested positive for salmonella, but continued to ship them. In that case, no illnesses were associated with a recall of more than two million pounds of pistachios.
And most recently, it has just emerged that Basic Food Flavors knew its hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) was tainted with salmonella, but continued to distribute it for a month before initiating a recall.