Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 81, who owned Quality Egg, will serve three months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000.
His son, Peter DeCoster, 51, the firm’s chief operating officer, was also sentenced in federal district court in Iowa, to serve three months followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000.
The pair pleaded guilty last year in connection with the distribution of adulterated eggs. They were not taken into custody and can appeal the sentence.
Sentencing and fines
Quality Egg was sentenced to pay a fine of $6.79m and placed on probation for three years.
During 2010, adulterated eggs produced and distributed by Quality Egg were linked to 1,939 reported illnesses in multiple states—a nationwide outbreak of salmonellosis that led to the August 2010 recall of millions of eggs produced by the defendants.
Kevin Techau, US Attorney of the Northern District of Iowa, said the prosecution sends a stern message to anyone tempted to place profits over people’s welfare.
“Corporate officials are on notice. If you sell contaminated food you will be held responsible for your conduct. Claims of ignorance or 'I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ will not shield them from criminal responsibility.”
Dr Stephen Ostroff, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner, said food manufacturers have a responsibility to produce and sell food that is safe for consumers to eat.
“Eggs are commonly consumed nationwide, both on their own and as ingredients in other foods. When manufacturers fail to produce safe food, the FDA will take action to protect public health.”
Quality Egg admitted personnel had disregarded food safety standards and practices and misled customers, including Walmart, about the company’s food safety practices.
The firm pleaded guilty to bribing a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector to release eggs retained for quality issues.
It acknowledged, on at least two occasions in 2010, its employees gave a cash bribe to the inspector in an attempt to influence the release of pallets of retained eggs for sale without re-processing as required by law and USDA standards.
The eggs had been retained or “red tagged” for failing to meet minimum quality grade standards.
Former Quality Egg employee Tony Wasmund, pleaded guilty in September 2012 to one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official, sell restricted eggs with intent to defraud and introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud and mislead.
Wasmund is scheduled to be sentenced on May 15.
David Plunkett, CSPI senior food safety attorney, said safety should be top of mind for everyone who produces food.
“The DeCosters oversaw conditions on a farm that caused thousands of illnesses and was cited by the Food and Drug Administration for its deplorable conditions.
“Their sentence demonstrates that food businesses that don’t practice food safety are committing a serious crime.”