United States: 2014 Food Industry Outlook - Criminal Investigations

Last Updated: January 14 2014
Article by R. Trent Taylor

Uptick in Criminal Prosecutions For Food Safety Violations

For the last several years, there have been signs federal prosecutors planned to increasingly target food industry executives for criminal prosecution. In 2013, this became a reality as the federal government brought high-profile criminal charges against food company executives on at least two occasions.

On Feb. 20, 2013, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced criminal charges against five former officials and employees of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), a peanut processor and manufacturer. The government charged four individuals, including PCA's president and owner, in a 76-count indictment, and another employee plead guilty to similar charges. The charges stem from a 2009 salmonella outbreak that the FDA traced to a PCA roasting plant in Georgia. The FDA alleges that at least nine people died due to consumption of the tainted peanut products, which were recalled. The indictment is broad in scope, setting forth a detailed and lengthy six-year conspiracy to deliver adulterated and misbranded food. The charges also included nine instances of attempts to obstruct the government investigation of the PCA facility.

Significant enforcement activity in the food industry is not limited to PCA. In September 2013, misdemeanor criminal charges were filed against executives Eric and Ryan Jensen, who owned a melon farm on which listeria monocytogenes contaminated fruit and allegedly led to 33 deaths. See "Colo. Farmers arrested in listeria outbreak that killed 3," USA Today, Sept. 26, 2013, available here (last visited on Oct. 8, 2013). These charges did not allege criminal "intent," but such intent is not necessary for misdemeanor charges. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act criminalizes the distribution or sale of adulterated food even without knowledge of that adulteration. Both executives face up to six years in jail and a combined $1.5 million fine if found guilty. Arrest warrants were issued for both defendants, which is atypical in misdemeanor cases, and the executives were brought to their arraignments in shackles.

Revival of Park Doctrine

Criminal charges against individuals historically have been an unusual step for the government in cases involving food safety violations. Although both civil and criminal statutes and penalties against a company and individuals are available, the government has rarely used criminal provisions to charge individual food industry executives and employees. This remained true even though the U.S. Supreme Court specifically held in the seminal 1975 case of United States v. Park, 421 U.S. 658 (1975) — now known as the Park Doctrine — that corporate executives could be prosecuted criminally for unintentional violations of food and drug laws by their companies.

It now seems clear that federal prosecutors have revived the Park Doctrine. For instance, in 2010, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told Congress that an internal committee had recommended "increas[ing] the appropriate use of misdemeanor prosecutions, a valuable enforcement tool, to hold responsible corporate officials accountable." Letter from Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of Food and Drugs, to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (March 4, 2010) at 2. Soon thereafter, in January 2011, that recommendation was followed as the FDA changed its internal regulatory procedures to authorize Park Doctrine prosecutions against corporate executives under some circumstances. See U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Regulatory Procedures Manual at Section 6-5-3. 3. U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, April 24, 2012.

This renewed emphasis on the Park Doctrine was reaffirmed recently in the prosecution of Gary Osborn, the owner of the compounding pharmacy ApothéCure, Inc., who was charged with and pled guilty to two misdemeanor criminal violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, despite having no direct or personal involvement in the misbranding or labeling of the adulterated drug. The acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, Stuart Delery, said about this prosecution: "This plea shows that the Department of Justice will enforce the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act against responsible corporate officers of companies that fail to control the quality of their products." See U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, April 24, 2012.

Moreover, in 2011, the FDA's enforcement authority was increased with passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, including the ability to issue mandatory recalls and revoke the registration of food facilities. The FDA used its increased powers, for example, in November 2012 to shut down a peanut butter plant in New Mexico associated with another salmonella outbreak.

It is clear that federal prosecutors, as a deterrence strategy, are more aggressively pursuing criminal charges against the food industry. Given the apparent revival of the Park Doctrine and the PCA and Jensen Farm prosecutions, all signs point toward this trend of criminal enforcement increasing even more in 2014.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.