Small company reaches far and wide in salmonella scandal

Other News Materials 8 February 2009 20:05 (UTC +04:00)

From school lunches to nutrition bars and ice cream, the U.S. salmonella outbreak has reached deep into the American food supply - even though many people had never heard of the small company at the center of the investigation until a few weeks ago, usatoday reported.

The food manufacturer, Peanut Corp. of America, has just a few plants scattered across the American South, but it may be responsible for one of the largest U.S. food recalls in history.

Federal investigators on Friday said the Lynchburg, Virginia-based company knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products from its Blakely, Georgia, plant after tests showed the products were contaminated. Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could make it harmful to consumers' health.

So far, the salmonella outbreak has sickened about 575 people in 43 states and may have contributed to at least eight deaths. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation and more than 1,550 products have been recalled.

The company has denied any wrongdoing, but said it is investigating.

Before the scandal, Peanut Corp. was a little-known but ambitious company that began in the 1970s as a family catering operation.

"We started this business working out of our house in Virginia with my mom doing all the accounting," company president Stewart Parnell had been quoted on the company's website.

The peanut processing business grew over the years. The company bought a plant in Georgia in 2001, opened another in Texas four years later, and was also running a plant in Virginia.

Friends and business associates said Parnell was dedicated.

"He certainly has gone out and done some things on his own - he didn't just lay around. He's been aggressive," said Eddie Marks, who runs a Virginia storage company and has known Parnell for 15 years.

But even as the company expanded and began to process millions of pounds of peanuts per month, its headquarters was still a two-story building behind Parnell's house. He even had his own brand of peanut products: "Parnell's Pride."