Blue Bell’s Criminal Investigation–add food producer to “go to jail jobs”

Years ago a friend who was a refinery plant manager talked to me about how many jobs in the oil industry were now “go to jail jobs.” That is, if something seriously went wrong, you could go to jail simply because of the position you held.

Indeed, one client I worked with, a senior manager of a pipeline company, did go to jail for six months as well as several of his employees, despite the fact that the accident involved was the result of an incredibly complex chain of circumstances many of which they had no control over.

Perhaps this can be justified given the seriousness of the responsibility of some of these jobs. But we seem to have lost the idea that accidents can happen and while you can almost always find some action that would have prevented it from happening, that does not necessarily equate to negligence. Unless you are a plaintiff’s attorney of course.

Now, those involved in food production also have go to jail jobs it seems. The Department of Justice has begun a criminal investigation of Blue Bell, involved in a listeria outbreak earlier this year.

Bill Marler, likely the most prominent food plaintiff’s attorney in the nation, seems to be chortling a bit over this investigation–and not just because he predicted it.

He helpfully explains how a company executive like Mr. Kruse of Blue Bell can be subject to criminal charges and possible jail time: a food product is deemed “adulterated” if the food was “prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.” A food product is also considered “adulterated” if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it injurious to health.

He concludes: the legal jargon aside, if you are a producer of food and knowingly or not [emphasis mine] sell adulterated food, you can (and should) face fines and jail time.

In other words, as I understand it, if anything gets into a processing or storage facility that could be “injurious to health” then the senior executives involved in that facility can (and according to Marler) should go to jail.

That is absolutely chilling to me, and I’m not a food producer. But I am aware, as I think most are, that there are a range of bad things that can happen even in the most cautious and responsible operation. My friend talking to me about go to jail jobs in the oil industry commented about how this had a negative impact on the industry attracting top talent, thereby of course, increasing the cost of recruiting and holding talent. If Mr. Kruse goes to jail without overwhelming evidence that he was outrageously negligent or created an atmosphere of carelessness, in other words, if this is a show trial the impact on food production could be significant.