DOCUMENT: Investigation

Peanut Boss Denied Failed Tests

CEO e-mail claimed embattled Virginia firm was 'well-tested and safe'

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Peanut Boss Denied Failed Tests

FEBRUARY 11--Despite a history of positive salmonella tests, the head of the embattled Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) last month sent an e-mail to company executives claiming that previous lab testing had 'never found any salmonella at all' in the firm's products.

In a January 12 e-mail, a copy of which you'll find here, Stewart Parnell, PCA's chief executive, denied that the discovery of salmonella in the kitchen of a Minnesota nursing home was connected to the Virginia-based company, which is now at the center of a national salmonella outbreak that has resulted in nine deaths and the sickening of at least 600 consumers. 'We suspect the salmonella could have been introduced by cross-contamination after the tub was opened,' Parnell claimed.

The e-mail, which was obtained by congressional investigators probing PCA, was sent by Parnell to prepare company managers for press inquiries. 'Media have the power to turn this open container misunderstanding into a disaster for this company's good name if we handle this wrong,' wrote the 54-year-old Parnell. PCA's products, he added, 'are well-tested and safe; we are not the cause of this food-sickness outbreak.'

Federal agents this week raided PCA locations as part of a criminal probe of the firm, which allegedly shipped products even after salmonella was discovered in its peanut stock. A second Parnell e-mail, from last October, shows how the executive responded to news of a positive salmonella test at a PCA facility. Parnell noted that the discovery was 'costing us huge $$$$$,' and that 'we need to protect our self and the problem is that the tests absolutely give us no protection, just an indication at best.'

The PCA boss is pictured above as he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights today at a congressional hearing. (3 pages)