After the Honey Smacks Salmonella outbreak, the manager of the plant where the cereal was made pleaded guilty to charges tied to insanitary conditions there. The 2018 outbreak sickened 135 people, hospitalizing 34 of them.
Until the outbreak ended in September 2018, Ravi Kumar Chermala, 47, was the Director of Quality Assurance for Kerry Inc., overseeing food safety programs at a number of Kerry’s facilities including the plant in Gridley, IL that produced Honey Smacks cereal for The Kellogg Co.
In pleading guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce, Chermala admitted that between June 2016 and June 2018, he directed subordinates to alter the plant’s pathogen-monitoring program and to withhold information about plant conditions from Kellogg’s.
After health officials discovered the outbreak in June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a team to the plant to conduct an investigation. At least one environmental sample they collected tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella. But that wasn’t all.
In a review of records, the FDA discovered that plant managers had discovered Salmonella in the facility dozens of times in the two-year period prior to the outbreak.
“Between September 29, 2016, and May 16, 2018, you repeatedly found Salmonella throughout your facility, including in cereal production rooms. During this time period, you had 81 positive Salmonella environmental samples and 32 positive Salmonella vector samples,” the FDA said in a July 26, 2018 warning letter to the company.
In December 2018, two months after the outbreak ended, Kerry permanently closed the Gridley plant. Chermala, who pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Jonathan E. Hawley in Peoria, IL is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 30, 2023.