DOJ: Food manufacturing company with Gridley factory pleads guilty in connection with 2018 salmonella outbreak

Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 2:20 PM CST
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(25 News Now) - A food and ingredient manufacturing company with a facility in Gridley pleaded guilty February 3 to a charge that it manufactured breakfast cereal under insanitary conditions that was linked to a salmonella outbreak in 2018.

A release from the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs says Kerry Inc. pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of distributing adulterated cereal marketed as Kellogg’s Honey Smacks.

Kerry Inc. also agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture amount totaling $19.228 million. If the guilty plea is accepted by the court, the fine and forfeiture will constitute the largest-ever criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case, the release said.

The criminal information unsealed last week alleges that Kerry manufactured Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal under insanitary conditions and distributed it in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

According to the plea agreement, tests performed as part of Kerry’s environmental monitoring program found numerous instances of Salmonella in the environment at the Gridley facility. During the time period June 2016 to June 2018, routine environmental tests detected Salmonella in the plant approximately 81 times, including at least one positive Salmonella sample each month. According to the plea agreement, employees at the Gridley facility routinely failed to implement corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) to address positive Salmonella tests.

In June 2018, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that an ongoing outbreak of salmonellosis cases in the United States could be traced to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal produced at Kerry’s Gridley facility. In response, Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant since June 2017. The CDC eventually identified more than 130 cases of salmonellosis linked to the outbreak, with illness onset dates beginning in March 2018.

The CDC did not identify any deaths related to the outbreak.

Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and abdominal crams that last several days in healthy adults. It can cause severe dehydration nd even death in infants, young children, the elderly, transplant recipients, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

In a related case, the DOJ says that Ravi K. Chermala, Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance until September 2018, previously pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. He oversaw the sanitation programs at various Kerry manufacturing plants, including the Gridley facility. In pleading guilty, he admitted that between June 2016 and June 2018, he directed subordinates not to report certain information to Kellogg’s about conditions at the Gridley facility. In addition, he admitted that he directed subordinates at the Gridley facility to alter the plant’s program for monitoring for the presence of pathogens in the plant, limiting the facility’s ability to accurately detect insanitary conditions.

Chermala is scheduled to be sentenced on February 16.

Kerry Inc. is scheduled to be sentenced March 14.