By SDCN Staff
A former quality assurance director for food manufacturer Kerry Incorporated pleaded guilty Friday to charges related to the manufacture of a breakfast cereal linked to a 2018 outbreak of salmonellosis, or salmonella poisoning.
Ravi Kumar Chermala, 47, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. Chermala, Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance until September 2018, oversaw the sanitation programs at various Kerry manufacturing plants, including a facility in Gridley, Illinois, that manufactured Kellogg’s Honey Smacks breakfast cereal for Kerry’s customer, the Kellogg Company. In pleading guilty, Chermala admitted that between June 2016 and June 2018, he directed subordinates to not report certain information to Kellogg’s about conditions at the Gridley facility. In addition, Chermala admitted that he directed subordinates at the Gridley facility to alter the plant’s program for monitoring the presence of pathogens in the plant, limiting the facility’s ability to accurately detect unsanitary conditions.
“Food safety professionals cannot conceal potentially dangerous problems from customers or government regulators,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The department will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who engage in such conduct.”
“Today’s announcement reinforces that if an individual violates food safety rules or conceals relevant information, we will seek to hold them accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Lynda Burdelik, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Chicago Field Office. “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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (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 than 130 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.
Salmonellosis can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that last several days in healthy adults. Absent prompt treatment, salmonellosis can cause severe dehydration and even death in infants, young children, the elderly, transplant recipients, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
Chermala pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Jonathan Hawley in Peoria, Illinois. The sentencing date is scheduled for Jan. 30, 2023.