A peanut company CEO has received a 28-year federal prison sentence over a salmonella outbreak that caused nine deaths and hundreds of salmonella poisonings. It is very rare for the CEO of a company to be criminally punished for a case of food contamination like this.

Salmonella contamination at the Peanut Corporation of America plant resulted in one of the biggest food recalls in the history of the United States. It also forced the company to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

CEO's Brother and Another Employee Also Sentenced

The ex-CEO of Peanut Corporation of American, Stewart Parnell, was convicted of federal conspiracy charges along with his brother, Michael Parnell. Stewart is 61 years of age and Michael is 56.

Stewart Parnell's 28-year prison sentence is the most severe punishment issued to someone over a food safety issue. Originally, he faced the threat of life in prison. His brother, Michael Parnell, was sentenced to 20 years.

Along with the two brothers, the company's quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson, was convicted of obstruction and hit with a 5-year federal prison sentence. Wilkerson is 41 years of age.

CEO Issued a Heartfelt Apology

Prior to his sentencing, Stewart Parnell issued an emotional statement to the court. He said, "This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I'm truly, truly sorry for what's happened."

However, family members of the victims who died issued even more emotional statements during court proceedings. One man, who claims his mother died from eating Salmonella-tainted peanut butter, said, "My mother died a painful death from salmonella, and the look of horror on her face as she died shall always haunt me ... I just hope they ship you all to jail."

According to prosecutors, the brothers conspired for years to cover up salmonella in their products. They were accused of making up fraudulent certificates to show that their peanuts were safe, even though they had laboratory test results that showed the possibility of contamination.

Defense Attorney Says Sentences Were Overly Harsh

An attorney representing Stewart said that he will appeal the criminal sentences as being too harsh. The attorney said that the punishments are essentially lifetime sentences, considering the ages of the two men.