As the criminal prosecution of Peanut Corp. of America executives continues into its second week, the former south Georgia peanut-processing plant manager reportedly admitted lying to federal investigators about positive tests for Salmonella in company products and the frequency of testing “to play damage control, [and in an effort] to protect the company.” According to news sources, Samuel Lightsey, who agreed to plead guilty to seven criminal counts to reduce his potential prison sentence in exchange for his testimony against his former colleagues, also testified that the company cheated on safety testing by switching samples and shipping thousands of pounds of peanut products after learning they were contaminated or before testing could be completed. The contaminated peanut paste, traced to the Peanut Corp. facility, allegedly sickened more than 700 people and killed nine in a 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak that led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

Asked to examine photographs of the plant he managed, Lightsey further reportedly confirmed evidence of water leaks and sanitation problems. He said that the photos showed mold and mildew, water stains and condensation. “There was multiple areas in the plant that were leaking,” he said, and explained that workers covered food products with plastic to keep them dry. Lightsey also reportedly testified that workers kept a pellet gun near at hand to shoot birds that entered the facility.

To date, his testimony has apparently implicated defendant Michael Parnell, the company’s food broker, in the scheme to hide bad test results from customers. When Lightsey brought concerns to him, Parnell reportedly told him not to worry about it, purportedly saying, “We’ve been shipping to them with false COAs (false certificates of analysis) since before you got here.”

Lightsey has not yet been cross-examined, and his testimony was interrupted so that four other witnesses, including one from out of town, could testify. They included two Georgia Department of Agriculture employees and a Food and Drug Administration microbiologist, who testified about taking environmental swabs from the plant; two of the swabs tested positive for Salmonella. Counsel for former company owner Stewart Parnell reportedly sought to discredit this witness by questioning him about the procedures he followed in conducting his investigation. See Associated Press and WFSB 3, August 11, 2014; Associated Press and ABC News, August 14, 2014

Meanwhile, the court has denied the defendants’ motion to compel, ruling that the government’s witness disclosures were adequate. United States v. Parnell, No. 13-cr-12 (M.D. Ga., order entered August 8, 2014). So ruling, the court found that the defendants were able to anticipate the content of the experts’ testimony from disclosures consisting of curricula vitae and reports, including interviews conducted by government agents and many of the experts’ actual reports.


Issue 534

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.