In light of shocking revelations disclosed by the FDA about the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) Blakey, GA facility, foodborne illness law firm Marler Clark amended the Federal lawsuit it had filed against PCA to allege punitive damages.  The complaint was filed last week on behalf of Vermont residents Gabrielle and Daryl Meunier, whose son was sickened in the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak tied to peanut butter products manufactured in the PCA plant.

Punitive damages are awarded over and above compensatory damages to punish a negligent party because of wanton, reckless, or malicious acts or omissions. 

“We do not allege punitive damages in most cases,” said attorney Bill Marler.  “Just the most egregious.  In fifteen years of litigating food cases, this is one of the worst examples of corporate irresponsibility I have ever seen.  Not only does the plant appear to have had atrocious practices, but the product that seems to have repeatedly tested positive for Salmonella but was shipped to hospitals, nursing homes and schools regardless.”

The FDA found: 
• 12 positive tests of Salmonella in product manufactured by PCA 
• 4 different strains of Salmonella detected on site in Blakely, GA 
• Failure to maintain equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold, and store food in a manner that protects against contamination 
• Failure to perform mechanical manufacturing steps so as to protect food against contamination 
• Failure to store finished food under conditions that would protect against microbial contamination 
• Plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow ceilings to be kept in good repair 
• Design of equipment and utensils fails to preclude the adulteration of food with contaminants 
• Proper precautions to protect food and food-contact surfaces from contamination with microorganisms cannot be taken because of deficiencies in plant construction and design 
• Devices and fixtures are not designed and constructed to protect against recontamination of clean, sanitized hands
• Failure to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations for utensils and equipment in a manner that protects against contamination of food 
• Effective measures not being taken to protect against contamination of food on the premises by pests

Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses began appearing in late August 2008.  It wasn’t until January 2009 that the link was found to King Nut peanut butter, and then traced to the Blakely, GA plant.  The plant produced both peanut butter and peanut paste that was then sold to other companies for use in cookies, cakes, ice cream, candy, nutrition bars, and dog treats.  To date 43 states and Canada have reported illnesses.  There have been 501 confirmed illnesses, 125 hospitalizations and eight deaths.  Over 31 million pounds of peanut products have been recalled.  That number is expected to rise.

In a January 27 press release, the industry trade group The American Peanut Council (APC) expressed its “shock and dismay” at the actions of the Peanut Corporation of America, which they said “must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.” They went on to say that “The findings of the FDA report can only be seen as a clear and unconscionable action of one irresponsible manufacturer.”