On April 13, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett sentenced Peter and Austin (Jack) DeCosters to three months in jail, one year probation, and a $100,000 fine for their role in causing a salmonella outbreak in 2010. The sentencing had been left to the court’s discretion as a result of a plea agreement reached between the DeCosters and federal prosecutors, although prosecutors had not recommended incarceration. Under this plea agreement, both DeCosters pled guilty to the misdemeanor of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Quality EGG LLC, as a company, also pled guilty to two felonies: bribing a public official and introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce. The company was fined $6.8 million.
The government claims that Quality EGG LLC and the DeCosters caused a salmonella outbreak that sickened 2,000 people and ended in the recall of approximately 500 million eggs. As early as January 12, 2006, the government alleged that the DeCosters and Quality Egg LCC became aware that chickens in an Iowa facility had been contaminated with necropsies. Testing between 2006 and 2008 confirmed the presence of salmonella 47% of the time. According to the FDA, by the time of the 2010 salmonella outbreak, a person’s odds of contracting salmonella after eating a Quality Egg LLC egg was 1 in 516 while the national ratio was 1 in 20,000.
The government further alleged that “Quality Egg personnel made significant misrepresentations regarding its food safety and sanitation practices and procedures, and manufactured false documents required by the audits,” including “misrepresentations regarding cleaning and maintenance efforts, pest control measures, and purported ‘flock testing’ — which was never done — to identify and control Salmonella.” The sentencing brief filed by federal prosecutors also claims that Quality Egg LLC bribed a USDA egg inspector to release sub-standard eggs.
The DeCosters are expected to appeal, and have thirty days from April 13, 2015, to do so. Until that time, the jail sentences for the 51-year-old and 80-year-old are stayed.