Four people have been charged with working to supply adulterated peanuts into the US food chain, which in 2009 sparked one of the largest food safety scares in the country.

An indictment served yesterday (21 February) brought charges against three former employees of the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America, which four years ago was found to have supplied peanuts contaminated with salmonella.

The peanuts caused an outbreak that was linked to the deaths of nine people and the illness of over 600. The scare led to the recall of over 2,000 food products.

Stewart Parnell, who was president of PCA, Samuel Lightsey, operations manager at the plant at the centre of the contamination have been charged with "mail and wire fraud, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy", the Department of Justice said.

Michael Parnell, who worked at P.P. Sales, a broker who did business on behalf of PCA, faces the same charges.

Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson, who held various posts at PCA, have been charged with obstruction of justice.

A fifth man, Daniel Kilgore, who was operations manager at the PCA plant in Blakely before Samuel Lightsey has pleaded guilty to charges in a separate case.

"When those responsible for producing or supplying our food lie and cut corners, as alleged in the indictment, they put all of us at risk," said Stuart Delery, who heads the Justice Department's civil division. "The Department of Justice will not hesitate to pursue any person whose criminal conduct risks the safety of Americans who have done nothing more than eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, Lightsey and Kilgore are accused of participating in a scheme to manufacture and ship salmonella-contaminated peanuts and peanut products.

"Unfortunately and as alleged in the indictment, these defendants cared less about the quality of the food they were providing to the American people and more about the quantity of money they were gathering while disregarding food safety," attorney Michael Moore said.

The four men are charged with defrauding amd misleading their customers over the quality of their peanuts. The men are accused are failing to tell customers about tests that showed the peanuts contained salmonella.