Speaking of Food Safety

Final Sentencing for PCA Case

DSD SFBI

I sat in the US District court house in Albany, GA, on Monday, September 21, bearing witness to the sentencing portion of this landmark trial of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives indicted by the Department of Justice for their roles in the 2008-2009 outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium tied to contaminated peanuts.

 

Though the sentencing event that day was for Stewart Parnell (ex CEO of PCA,) Michael Parnell (brother of Stewart and ex broker for PCA,) and Mary Wilkerson (ex QA manager for PCA,) US District Federal Judge W. Louis Sands ordered Daniel Kilgore and Samuel Lightsey (both former plant managers at PCA) to be in attendance to hear the testimony of the victims and their families.

Both Lightsey and Kilgore became government witnesses in the case, providing testimony during the 2014 trial for consideration of limited sentencing.

Families talked of lives forever changed and of loved ones who survived great challenges in life – only to succumb to Salmonella in peanut products.  One father commented that the PCA executive should feel lucky that they are not facing death sentences as did some of their customers.

Jeff Almer, whose mother lost her life in the outbreak, stared at Samuel Lightsey and asked him “How is it that you didn’t know that Salmonella could exist in peanuts?”  Almer turned to Kilgore and questioned whether he has any remorse or if it was only to save his own life from living it out in prison.

After all the comments from victims and their families, Judge Sands stated that Lightsey and Kilgore were allowed to be excused, but their defense attorneys indicated that the two wished to make a statement before the court.

Lightsey stood at the podium and faced the judge.  He said “I took this job on July 7, 2008, confident that I could do it.  Over the next six months, I faced many challenges.  I always thought I would do the right thing.  I’m not perfect and my Make mistakes.  I knew it was wrong to file false certificates before shipping out the products.  I should have walked away.  I have a wife and children…what if it were them [who got sick.]”

He then turned to the families behind him who traveled from all over the country to see justice carried through for their loved ones.

“I want to apologize,” expressed Lightsey.  “I am sincerely sorry and I know that might sound shallow at this time, but it is from my heart.”

Daniel Kilgore approached the podium and faced the families as he stated simply “I understand you all might not be here next week [for his October 1 sentencing].  I apologize for my actions and lack of actions.”

Judge Sands stated, moments before 9/21 sentencing of the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson, that “We place faith that no one would intentionally ship to market contaminated food.”  Further, he added, “Consumers are at the mercy of producers for the safety of the products.”

On October 1, the court imposed a sentence of:

  • Three years in prison for Samuel Lightsey and
  • Six years in prison for Daniel Kilgore.

For more information on this outbreak, case, trial, and sentencing, visit Darin’s related media HERE.
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Darin Detwiler, M.Ed. is the Senior Policy Coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness, America’s leading nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens.  For over 20 years, state, federal, and industry stakeholders have called upon Darin Detwiler as a significant voice in strengthening America’s food policies.  Detwiler is an FDA certified Food Science Educator appointed twice to serve as a regulatory policy advisor for the USDA.  He is a frequent speaker at FDA regional training events, as well as national food policy conferences. Additionally, Detwiler is the Academic Program Director and an Adjunct Professor in the MS Program in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, where he is also a Doctoral Candidate in Law and Policy focusing on food policy.

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