Kerry Inc. has pleaded guilty to a charge of manufacturing breakfast cereal under insanitary conditions and will pay a $19 million fine in connection with a 2018 Salmonella outbreak linked to Honey Smacks cereal that sickened 135 people, hospitalizing 34 of them.
If the plea agreement filed with a criminal information in federal court in Peoria, IL on February 3, is accepted by the court, the fine will be the “largest-ever criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Information in the plea agreement revealed for the first time the extent of the contamination at Kerry’s facility in Gridley, IL where Honey Smacks cereal was made until December 2018 when it permanently closed. Between June 2016 and June 2018 when the outbreak was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the company’s routine environmental tests found Salmonella in the facility at least once a month and a total of 81 times. Kerry employees failed to correct the problem, the document states.
In October 2022, Ravi K. Chermala, Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance until September 2018, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. In his guilty plea, 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. He is scheduled to be sentenced on February 16. The sentencing date for Kerry is March 14.