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Peanut Executive Gets 28 Years in Prison for Salmonella Outbreak

Stewart Parnell was deemed responsible for illnesses that killed nine Americans.

Stewart Parnell.
Stewart Parnell.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America who was found guilty of causing a massive, deadly salmonella outbreak, is going to jail. A federal judge in Georgia sentenced Parnell to 28 years in prison on Monday, writes the Associated Press, handing down what seems to be the stiffest penalty on record related to foodborne illness.

Parnell and two co-defendants were found to have knowingly shipped peanuts that were tainted with salmonella, in addition to tampering with lab tests. The result of their actions was a nationwide outbreak that sickened 714 people and killed nine. In court on Monday, Parnell addressed the victims' families and said he was "truly sorry," according to the AP. He was facing 803 years in prison, though at his age, 61, 28 years is essentially a life sentence. Michael Parnell, Stewart's brother and a former food broker, received 20 years for his role in the outbreak, and Mary Wilkerson, former quality control manager at the company's Blakely, Ga., plant, received five years.

The punishment marks the first time individuals responsible for foodborne illnesses are facing jail time. Despite the threat of severe penalties, there's no guarantee it will result in improved food safety practices.

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