The Justice Department has a long-record of criminal prosecutions of companies for manufacturing food products under unsanitary conditions. In recent years, DOJ has prosecuted Blue Bell Ice Cream, Chipotle, ConAgra Grocery, Peanut Corporation of America and egg producers for production of food products that resulted in serious food borne illnesses.
In a recent case, Kerry, Inc., a manufacturer of breakfast cereal for Kellogg’s Honey Smacks in Gridley, Illinois, plead guilty for manufacturing with insanitary conditions that was linked to a 2018 salmonellosis outbreak. Kerry agreed to a pay a fine of $19.228 and forfeiture.
Kerry entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of distributing adulterated cereal marketed as Kellogg’s Honey Smacks. Tests performed as part of Kerry’s environmental monitoring program found numerous instances of salmonella in the Gridley manufacturing facility.
Specifically, between 2016 and 2018, routine environmental tests detected salmonella in plant approximately 81 times, including at least one positive salmonella sample each month. Employees at the Gridley facility routinely failed to implement corrective and preventive actions to address the positive salmonella tests.
In June 2018, the FDA and the CDC linked an outbreak of salmonellosis cases to a Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal produced at Kerry’s Gridley facility. In response, in June 2018, Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks cereal produced at the plant for a one-year period.
The CDC eventually linked over 130 cases of salmonellosis to the outbreak. The illnesses were identified in 33 states and resulted in 30 hospitalizations. According to the CDC, there were no cases of resulting deaths from the outbreak.
Salmonellosis can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that can last several days. In the absence of treatment, salmonellosis can cause severe dehydration and even death in infants, young children, the elderly, transplant recipients, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems.
Earlier, Ravi Chermala, Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance until September 2018, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. Chermala was responsible for sanitation programs at several Kerry manufacturing plants, including the Gridley facility.
Chermala admitted that, between 2018 and 2018, he instructed subordinates not to report information about Kellogg’s about the Gridley site. Also, Chermala admitted that he directed subordinates at the Gridley facility to alter the plant’s program for monitoring the presence of pathogens in the plant, thereby restricting the ability to detect unsanitary conditions.
Chermala is scheduled to be sentenced on February 16, 2023. Kerry is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2023.