U.S. justice authorities have filed criminal charges against a food company owner and three employees who sold salmonella-tainted peanut butter that killed nine Americans and sickened hundreds.
Stewart Parnell, the owner of now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, and three others were charged with conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice Thursday in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.
Federal prosecutors alleged the group covered up the presence of salmonella in its peanut products for years, and even created fake certificates showing the products were safe when laboratory tests proved they were not.
The charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
Peanut Corporation of America was forced out of business soon after a 2009 salmonella outbreak, linked to its products, killed nine people and sickened hundreds.
Stuart F. Delery, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division, said when food or drug manufacturers lie, they put everyone at risk. He said the department will not hesitate to pursue food manufacturers and others who may compromise consumer safety in search of higher profits.