Skip to main content

Peanut executive faces possible life sentence for salmonella outbreak

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The top-ranking executive of a peanut company could be sentenced to prison for decades Monday, after being convicted of crimes involving a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people - three of them in Minnesota - and sickened hundreds more.

The Associated Press reports Stewart Parnell, 61, the former owner of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, is due in federal court in Georgia along with two other defendants - his brother and one of the plant managers - to be sentenced.

Parnell was convicted a year ago of knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter from the PCA plant in Blakely, Georgia, to Kellogg's and other customers who used it in products from packaged crackers to pet food.

The jury also found Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, guilty of faking results of lab tests intended to screen for salmonella.

Food safety advocates consider Parnell’s conviction a landmark case because it’s the first time a corporate executive has been held accountable for a company distributing tainted food.

In a court filing late last week, the federal judge overseeing the case mentioned the possible prison sentence for Stewart Parnell - 803 years, based on the number of people who became ill and the fact that the outbreak cost PCA's customers more than $140 million, according to the Associated Press.

The judge has the authority to impose a lighter sentence if he chooses. A life term for Parnell would be the harshest sentence ever handed down for such a case.

Minnesota victims

The 2009 salmonella outbreak involving tainted peanut butter sickened more than 714 people and caused nine deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and led to one of the country’s largest food recalls.

Federal investigators found filthy conditions at the plant, including mold, insect infestations, and a leaky roof. Prosecutors argued that Parnell and his company cut corners on safety to maximize profits. They told jurors that when laboratory tests detected salmonella in their peanut butter, the company covered up the results and chose to ship the product to buyers anyway.

Three of those who died from eating the tainted peanut butter were from Minnesota: Shirley Almer, 72, of Perham; Clifford Tousignant, 78, originally of Duluth; and Doris Flatgard, 87, of Brainerd.

Almer's son Jeff has become an outspoken food safety advocate since his mother's death in December 2008. He told CNN he plans to be at the sentencing hearing Monday to speak on behalf of his mother, a cancer survivor who became ill and died after eating a piece of peanut butter toast.

Jeff Almer said he wants to look Parnell and the others in the eyes and tell them about his mother; "what they took away and what they will never be able to take away," according to CNN.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness. Most people recover within a few days but those with weaker immune systems can be more vulnerable. Most of those who died in the outbreak were older than 70 or had other health conditions.

Earlier this month, another salmonella outbreak was traced back to cucumbers that were distributed by a California produce company to restaurants and grocery stores nationwide, including Minnesota.

Next Up

Doug Wardlow

Doug Wardlow reneges on promise, will challenge GOP's AG candidate in primary

Wardlow's announcement sparked swift criticism from the MN GOP and the party-endorsed candidate, Jim Schultz.

Flickr - welcome to minnesota sign - Tony Webster

US News '150 Best Places to Live' features 1 from MN, 3 from WI

The latest US News list is for the most populous metro areas only, so no small towns.


7 tornadoes touched down last week in western MN, ND

Two of the seven were EF-2 level tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Tuesday, May 17

72 hours of case data reported over the weekend is included in Tuesday updates.

Stallings surveillance footage - screengrab - crop

City of Minneapolis, Jaleel Stallings reach $1.5M settlement

Although a settlement was made, the city will not admit fault or take any responsibility for the incident as part of the agreement with Stallings.


2 rescued after kayaks capsize on Sauk River

Recent heavy rainfall produced a strong currents on the water.

covid 19 test

How to order 8 free at-home COVID-19 tests

A third round of free tests is now available from the U.S. government.


Three new Grandstand shows added for Minnesota State Fair 2022

The Beach Boys and Portugal. The Man are among several acts booked.

St. Louis County

St. Louis County set to declare state of emergency ahead of peak flood levels

Volunteers are urgently needed for sandbagging efforts in a small community near Voyageurs National Park.

Screen Shot 2022-05-16 at 5.03.30 PM

Brothers Bar & Grill closes in downtown Minneapolis

The Midwest chain closed its St. Cloud location in 2018.