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Justice Department Could Prosecute Companies for Food Safety Issues

The declaration comes in response to recent Listeria outbreaks.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The United States Justice Department said on Monday that it will consider punishing companies that are responsible for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, reports the Associated Press. Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery told the AP criminal and civil penalties are a possibility.

"We have made a priority holding individuals and companies responsible when they fail to live up to their obligations that they have to protect the safety of the food that all of us eat," Delery said.

The declaration comes in the wake of a Listeria outbreak that has rocked two major companies, Blue Bell Creameries and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. In April, Blue Bell issued a voluntary recall of all of its products after they were connected with three Listeria-related deaths. An FDA investigation found that Blue Bell knew of possible contamination two years before the company issued a recall.

Jeni's found Listeria in a product sample just two days after the Blue Bell recall was announced and followed suit with a total recall of its own, closing its scoop shops across the country. No illnesses have been connected to the Listeria discovery at Jeni's.

Delery did not offer specifics on what sorts of punishments offending companies might face. "What I can say is we're committed to staying on top of outbreaks and evaluating potential cases as the evidence warrants," he told the AP.