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Peanut Butter & Salmonella

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More than a year ago, nine people died and 44 children were sickened in a salmonella outbreak allegedly originating from food products manufactured by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA). The federal judge in the case recently indicated that he would recommend approval for settlement payments to the affected families. Proposed settlement amounts ranges from less than $50,000 up to more than $2 million.

Magistrate Judge Michael Urbanski presided over the hearing in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, VA, questioning attorneys for the injured families and children, trustees for the PCA bankruptcy case, and Kellogg Co. Attorneys for the plaintiffs urged swift action, citing the length of time that has passed since the outbreak.

2009 Salmonella Outbreak

Salmonella found in a PCA peanut butter container in January 2009 led to recalls of the product itself and products of other manufacturers who used PCA in manufacturing. The FDA seizure of PCA products from its Plainview, Texas facility showed contamination in products manufactured as long ago as 2007. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) found many other health violations, which prompted a shutdown of the plant.

Peanut Products Tainted

The PCA facility did not actually produce peanut butter, but products used in making peanut butter products. The plant blanched, split, granulated and roasted peanuts that were then distributed to various manufacturing and packaging companies. The Texas facility also produced and distributed peanut meal, a byproduct used to make peanut butter, crackers, cookies, cereal, ice cream, candy, pet treats and more.

The large scope of the contamination prompted PCA and its subsidiaries to file for bankruptcy protection February 2010. PCA’s insurance company, The Hartford, set up a $12 million pool of funds designed to compensation the plaintiffs for personal injury and wrongful death claims. To date, 123 claims have been filed against the pool. One case was awarded no compensation as the salmonella strain that sickened the individual was of a different strain than that found in PCA products.

Parents Wanted Criminal Charges against PCA Officers

According to the court-designated attorney for a large portion of the children in the case, David Carson, most parents were satisfied by the settlement. However, some parents expressed extreme dissatisfaction over the lack of criminal prosecution against, PCA officers.

Judge Urbanksi commented on the exceptional levels of cooperation among the attorneys involved in the case. He described their work in sharing $12 million fairly among 122 approved claims “extraordinary.”

The judge plans to make his recommendations to U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon by next week’s end. He plans to approve the settlements and will address issues such as attorneys’ fees and possible compensation for some of the parents of sickened children.

If you or someone you loved suffered serious injuries because of food contamination, it is important you contact our office to discuss your options. You may be eligible to file a claim to be compensated for your injuries.

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