Kerry Inc. pleaded guilty Feb. 3 to a charge that it manufactured breakfast cereal under unsanitary conditions at a facility in Gridley, Ill., that was linked to a 2018 salmonellosis outbreak involving Kellogg’s Honey Smacks.
Pursuant to a plea agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Kerry pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of distributing adulterated cereal. If the guilty plea is accepted by the court, the $19.228 million fine will constitute the largest-ever criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case, according to DOJ.
In June 2018, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked an ongoing outbreak of salmonellosis to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal produced at Kerry’s Gridley facility. Kellogg recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant since June 2017. The CDC eventually identified more than 130 cases of salmonellosis linked to the outbreak, with illness onset dates beginning in March 2018. The CDC did not identify any deaths related to the outbreak.
Ravi Kumar Chermala was director of quality assurance for Kerry Inc. at the time, overseeing sanitation programs at several Kerry manufacturing plants, including the one in Gridley. In October 2022, Chermala admitted in court he directed subordinates not to report certain information to Kellogg about unsanitary conditions at the Gridley plant. In addition, he directed subordinates there to alter the plant’s program for monitoring the presence of pathogens, limiting the facility’s ability to accurately detect unsanitary conditions.
Chermala was fired by Kerry in September 2018. Last October, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 16.