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ConAgra to Pay $11.2M |to Settle Salmonella Case

(CN) - ConAgra Foods will pay $11.2 million to settle a federal criminal charge that it shipped Peter Pan peanut butter tainted with salmonella eight years ago, a mishap that triggered a massive recall and sickened hundreds.

Prosecutors filed a single misdemeanor charge against the Omaha, Nebraska-based company in the Albany, Georgia Federal Court on Wednesday.

According to the government, on December 7 2006, ConAgra Food's Sylvester, Georgia plant transported peanut butter tainted with salmonella to a distribution center in Fort Worth, Texas, from which it was delivered to local stores in 47 states.

The resulting salmonella outbreak was blamed for sickening at least 625 people.

The settlement announced Wednesday requires ConAgra Foods to pay $8 million in criminal fines and $3.2 million in forfeitures to the federal government.

In the wake of the outbreak, ConAgra recalled all of the peanut butter is had manufactured since 2004. It later said that an internal investigation revealed a malfunctioning sprinkler system and a leaking roof allowed salmonella bacteria to grow on raw peanuts at the facility.

The plant was completely upgraded in 2007, and new testing procedures allowed it to get back to the business of producing peanut butter a few months after the recall.

In a statement ConAgra's Chief Operations Officer Al Bolles said the company didn't know the peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella before it was shipped and that it is committed to ensuring the safety of its products.

"We've invested heavily in leading-edge food safety technology and practices over the past eight years, and we are thankful for all of the people who recognize that and are loyal Peter Pan fans," Bolles said. "ConAgra Foods took full responsibility in 2007, taking immediate steps to determine the potential causes of and solutions for the problem and acting quickly and definitively to inform and protect consumers.

"This incident brought to light previously unknown aspects of making safe peanut butter, and we have been passionate about sharing what we learned to help others join us in creating an even safer food supply. We will remain vigilant to maintain the trust we've worked so hard to earn from our consumers," he said.

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