Three years later while working at an orthopedic implants facility, Kendrick learned of the widespread Salmonella outbreak that traced to PCA’s Georgia plant. He spent “hundreds of hours” trying to contact the media and federal food or health agencies to get attention placed on the Plainview plant. The only response he received was from the Chicago office of STOP Foodborne Illness, a non-profit food safety organization. Kendrick received a phone call from Donna Rosenbaum, the organization’s CEO at the time, and Nancy Donley, a food safety advocate who lost her own son to E. coli some years earlier.
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The leaders at STOP listened to Kendrick’s story and his observations. They followed up by verifying his information with an anonymous employee from the Texas plant. STOP then offered to help by getting Kendrick in touch with the media and FDA investigators.
Kendrick soon appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America after The New York Times published an article about the peanut plant based on his descriptions. However, by these and other news outlets incorrectly calling Kendrick the “plant manager” as opposed to his real title of “assistant plant manager,” the media casted doubt on his motives, implying he was only coming forward to save himself since he was the so-called plant manager.
On a positive note, investigators from the FDA did set up a personal meeting with Kendrick to get his side of the story. Kendrick gave them copies of some emails he had sent to companies. He told of the lies that PCA’s owner, Stewart Parnell, was selling the public. According to Kendrick, Stewart Parnell knowingly made false statements about how the peanut plant engaged in testing all the time. “What Parnell was saying was just not true,” claims Kendrick. “Parnell would only do testing when a buyer requested one, and by ‘testing’ I mean that Parnell had an office worker simply change the dates on recent inspection sheets.”
Kendrick also revealed how PCA was shipping product between production plants in different states. According to Kendrick, peanut meal, a sawdust-like product from chopping nuts, sat for over a year in large material containers until a full truckload was gathered—for the sake of saving money—before being shipped to Georgia for processing into peanut butter. He also said that the manager ordered employees to sweep the year-long collection of dust and rat feces off the containers so that they didn’t look so bad upon arrival.
Kendrick even drew the FDA maps of the Plainview plant to show exactly where to find holes in the roof, evidence of the flooded basement, and where the dead rats could be found in a false ceiling. With this information, federal and state authorities found the evidence they needed to pressure PCA to shut down the Plainview plant.
The CDC was also able to link the facility to the multi-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened 714 consumers in 46 states and caused the deaths of nine people between 2008 and 2009. PCA began recalling its products in January 2009, which were ingredients in more than 3,500 foods produced by numerous companies.
On Feb. 13, 2009, PCA filed for bankruptcy. Four years later, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the following four PCA executives on 76 criminal charges related to adulterated and misbranded products that reached interstate commerce: Stewart Parnell, owner; Michael Parnell, peanut broker; Mary Wilkerson, former quality control manager; and Daniel Kilgore, former operations manager at the Blakely, Ga. facility. Though the Department of Justice never called Kendrick to testify against PCA, he was satisfied that Parnell was indeed found guilty.
After being terminated from his job at the orthopedic implants facility following a hospitalization for severe depression, Kendrick has not held a significant job in the six years since he gained the label of a “whistleblower.” However, he has assisted a national project to help protect future whistleblowers. Even though acting as a whistleblower negatively impacted his professional and personal life, Kendrick understands what he did was for a larger cause and that had he not spoken up, the guilty parties may have gotten away with their crimes.