Honey Smacks manufacturer pleads guilty to food safety violations

Kerry, Inc., manufacturer of the breakfast cereal that was responsible for a 2018 Salmonella outbreak that sent thirty-four victims to hospital, has pled guilty in federal court to a charge that it manufactured the cereal under insanitary conditions.

The contaminated Kellogg’s Honey Smacks breakfast cereal caused 135 confirmed illnesses in 36 states.

According to a news release from the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the company has agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture amount totaling $19,228,000.

The plea agreement has not yet been accepted by the court.

According to the DOJ’s news release, if the agreement is accepted, “…the $19.228 million fine and forfeiture will constitute the largest-ever criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case.”

The company shut down operations at its Gridley, Illinois, facility in December 2018 due to a drop in demand for the products manufactured at that location.

In October 2022, Ravi Kumar Chermala, Kerry’s former Quality Assurance Director, pled guilty to three misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into Interstate Commerce.

Kerry Inc. released a statement on February 3, 2023, in which the company regretted “…the unacceptable practices and failures that occurred at Gridley.”


On the Q-T

The FDA’s investigation into this Salmonella outbreak–and the subsequent actions taken against the manufacturer–have been surrounded by a veil of silence from the beginning.

Honey Smacks cereal was manufactured by Kerry Inc. under a third-party contract with the Kellogg Company. At the time of the initial investigation, the FDA declined to reveal the name of the manufacturer it believed to be responsible for the Salmonella outbreak.

It was only after the CDC had declared the outbreak to be over that the FDA revealed the name of the manufacturer.

The FDA also declined to identify the Salmonella serotype it had discovered during the inspection of Kerry’s manufacturing facility and declined to reveal whether the strain it found was a genetic match to the strain recovered from outbreak victims.

In July 2018, Kerry initiated a recall of 82 tons of Soy Honey Cluster. Two days later, General Mills recalled six production batches of Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey cereal. In both cases, the potential for Salmonella contamination was given as the reason for the recall. Yet, no public notice was posted on the FDA website in either case.

What next?

The next step in this process will be for the Court to decide whether or not to accept the plea agreement.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge James E. Shadid and Magistrate Judge Jonathan E. Hawley in Peoria, Illinois, and a sentencing date of March 14, 2023, has been set.

Information regarding upcoming court hearings or other significant developments in the case will be posted on the DOJ’s Information for Victims in Large Cases website.

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