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Former Gridley cereal plant owner fined $19M for salmonella outbreak

A gavel sits on a judge's bench. On top of that photo, the words "WGLT Courts" appears.
WGLT file photo

The company that operated a now-closed cereal manufacturing facility in Gridley has agreed to pay $19.2 million in connection with a salmonella outbreak at the facility.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, it’s the largest criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case.

Ireland-based Kerry Inc. reached a plea agreement Friday in U.S. District Court in Peoria. The company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge tied to its distribution of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal that was contaminated due to unsanitary plant conditions.

“Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that food manufacturers have a critical responsibility to produce and sell food that is safe for American consumers to eat,” said assistant commissioner Justin Green of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations.

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an outbreak of salmonella cases tied to the Gridley facility in June 2018. According to the plea agreement, numerous instances of salmonella were found at the Gridley plant more than 80 times from June 2016 to June 2018.

Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant since June 2017. The Justice Department said the CDC linked more than 130 salmonella cases to the outbreak in 2018, but did not identify any deaths related to the outbreak.

Kerry’s director of quality assurance at the time, Ravi Chermala, previously pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges linked to the outbreaks. Chermala admitted to directing subordinates not to report the unsanitary conditions to Kellogg's and limited the plant’s monitoring of pathogens.

Chermala is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 16.

There were 115 workers at the plant at the time the facility closed in 2018.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.