GRIDLEY, Ill. (WMBD) — A food and ingredient manufacturer pleaded guilty in connection to manufacturing breakfast cereal in unsanitary conditions.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, Kerry Inc.’s facility in Gridley, Illinois was linked with a 2018 Salmonellosis outbreak.

Kerry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of distributing adulterated cereal marked as Kellogg’s Honey Smacks. They agreed to pay a criminal fine of $19.228 Million.

This fine will constitute the largest criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case ever.

“Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that food manufacturers have a critical responsibility to produce and sell food that is safe for American consumers to eat,” said Assistant Commissioner Justin D. Green for the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public health at risk by allowing contaminated foods to enter the U.S. marketplace.” 

Unsealed criminal information showed that tests performed as part of Kerry’s environmental monitoring program found numerous instances of salmonella in the environment at the Gridley facility.

Between June 2016 and June 2018, routine tests detected salmonella in the plant approximately 81 times. Employees at the Gridley plant routinely failed to address the positive salmonella tests.

In June 2018, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the outbreak of salmonella in the United States to the Gridley plant. Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant since June 2017.

More than 130 cases of salmonella were linked to this outbreak. No deaths were linked to this outbreak.

Ravi K. Chermala, Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance until September 2018, also pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of causing the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. 

By pleading guilty, Chermala admitted he directed subordinates not to report certain information to Kellogg’s about conditions at the Gridley facility. He also 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.