Back in 2009, the deadly salmonella outbreak that sickened over 700 people nationwide and killed nine was traced back to Georgia's Peanut Corporation of America plant. On Thursday four PCA executives were indicted by a federal grand jury, and the Plainview plant was also listed in the Department of Justice's 52-page indictment.
Named in the indictment were PCA company owner Stewart Parnell, his brother and vice-president Michael Parnell, Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson. They are being charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and many other counts related to contaminated or misbranded food.
Former production planner for Plainview's plant Kenneth Kendrick says he's not surprised to see Plainview listed in the indictment. "I'm shocked they weren't mentioned more," Kendrick said. "It took them several trips to find the dead rats in the roof, the flooding in the basement, and all sorts of things that are so extremely dangerous to food production."
Kendrick started working at the Plainview plant back in 2006, but after seeing the appalling conditions he left after four months. For years he tried to get the plant shut down, but it wasn't until the salmonella outbreak in 2009 linked to the Georgia plant that something was finally done.
"No one wanted to come forward, and step out of the plant to try to alert someone. My attempts went in vain until I sent 200 to 300 emails," he said. "I know it takes a lot to get attention, but when people are dying you've got to do it. How can you live with yourself for not doing it?"
The indictment refers several times to an unindicted co-conspirator from the Plainview plant who worked as the operations manager from 2007 to 2009. It states "officials suggested that totes of peanut meal at PCA Plainview be used to fill an order, noting they need to air hose the top off because they are covered in dust and rat crap."
That particular employee is also said to have taken part in re-boxing products with false labels and lying to customers about what is in their orders.
"Of course he knew and said nothing. He knew that could kill people, and if you don't then you shouldn't be the operations manager," he said. "It just seemed to be the company culture that money was overriding safety, and greed took over."
Although salmonella was linked to the Plainview plant, none of its employees have been indicted.
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