Criminal 'state of mind' could be required in future food safety misdemeanor cases

Dive Brief:

  • Congress could decide to require the proof of a defendant's state of mind in all federal criminal cases — implicating the future of food safety misdemeanor cases.
  • Currently, the FDA does not have to prove advanced knowledge or intent to bring "strict liability" criminal misdemeanor charges against defendants in food safety cases.
  • Government attorneys have accepted guilty pleas from a number of executives and corporations involved in damaging outbreak cases "simply because these executives and corporations were in charge when their contaminated products reached the marketplace," Food Safety News reported.

Dive Insight:

The food industry has been roiled by lawsuits filed against executives and corporations who grew or manufactured products that led to outbreaks and recalls. These have included Eric and Ryan Jensen (cantaloupes), Austin (Jack) and Peter DeCoster (eggs) and ConAgra Grocery Products Co. (peanut butter), but the sentencing (and now appeal) of Stewart Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America has made some of the biggest food safety case headlines this year.

"U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is the author of one bill containing language that eliminates the strict liability misdemeanor. However, pushback is coming from those who question why white collar crooks should benefit from the reforms and who say that ignorance of the law should never be an excuse," according to Food Safety News.

Blue Bell was a significant incident this year that led to deaths, as the company shut down its creameries and conducted a full product recall, though no criminal charges have been brought against the company.

Filed Under: Food Safety