Ex-peanut plant head testifies on salmonella
By KATE BRUMBACK
ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A former manager of a south Georgia peanut processing plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak reviewed emails and documents and testified Wednesday about the company’s operations.
Wednesday marked Samuel Lightsey’s fourth day of testimony in the trial of his former boss at Peanut Corporation of America, Stewart Parnell, and two others. Peanut Corporation is blamed for a deadly 2008-09 salmonella outbreak that caused one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
Lightsey testified about documents that showed positive tests for salmonella; emails sent by company employees to customers telling them to hold the product because of “inconclusive” tests, which Lightsey said were actually positive; and documents that showed water sometimes got into the company’s product, which he said can lead to contamination.
Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are accused of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. Stewart Parnell and the Georgia plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, also are charged with obstructing justice.
Defense attorneys have not yet started questioning Lightsey, who managed the plant from July 2008 until the company went bankrupt in 2009 following the outbreak. He pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts in May after reaching a deal with prosecutors.
Food safety investigators found more than 700 people across the country were infected with salmonella and nine people died — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina.
U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands agreed Wednesday to allow a break in Lightsey’s testimony Thursday so the prosecution can put four witnesses on the stand, including at least one who has traveled from outside of Georgia. Prosecutors told the judge Lightsey’s testimony was taking longer than they had anticipated.