WASHINGTON — A former quality assurance director at Kerry Inc. pleaded guilty Oct. 21 to charges related to the manufacture of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal linked to a 2018 outbreak of Salmonella poisoning.

The director, who oversaw quality assurance for Kerry until September 2018, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. He oversaw the sanitation programs at various Kerry manufacturing plants, including a facility in Gridley, Ill., that manufactured Kellogg’s Honey Smacks ready-to-eat cereal for Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co.

In pleading guilty, the QA director admitted that between June 2016 and June 2018, he directed subordinates to not report certain information to Kellogg about conditions at the Gridley facility. In addition, he admitted that he directed subordinates at the Gridley facility to alter the plant’s program for monitoring for the presence of pathogens in the plant, limiting the facility’s ability to accurately detect insanitary conditions.

“Food safety professionals cannot conceal potentially dangerous problems from customers or government regulators,” said General Brian M. Boynton, principal deputy assistant attorney and head of the civil division of the US Department of Justice. “The Department will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who engage in such conduct.” 

Lynda M. Burdelik, special agent at the US Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigations Chicago field office, said, “Today’s announcement reinforces that if an individual violates food safety rules or conceals relevant information, we will seek to hold them accountable. The health of American consumers and the safety of our food are too important to be thwarted by the criminal acts of any individual or company.”

In June 2018, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that an ongoing outbreak of salmonellosis cases in the United States could be traced to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal produced at Kerry’s Gridley facility. In response, Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant since June 2017. The CDC eventually identified more 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.

The CDC in September 2018 concluded its investigation into the outbreak. The agency said a total of 135 people infected with the Salmonella strain were reported from 36 states between March 3 and Aug. 29. Thirty-four people were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

The matter was investigated by the FDA’s office of criminal investigations. The case was prosecuted by Cody Matthew Herche, trial attorney, and James T. Nelson, senior trial attorney, of the DOJ civil division’s consumer protection branch.