GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Sara Lee Corp. pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge of selling tainted meat linked to a nationwide outbreak of listeriosis that killed at least 15 people in 1998.
As part of the federal plea, Chicago-based Sara Lee agreed to pay the maximum fine of $200,000 and spend $3 million on food-safety research at Michigan State University.
The outbreak of listeriosis, which also caused six miscarriages and seriously sickened 80 people, was linked to hot dogs and deli meat produced by Sara Lee's Bill Mar Foods plant in Borculo, about 20 miles west of Grand Rapids.
Company attorney Anton Valukas said a government investigation found that Sara Lee did not knowingly ship the tainted food.
``What happened, happened,'' Valukas told The Grand Rapids Press.
A federal grand jury has been investigating the plant since at least March 1999 _ about three months after Bil Mar was identified by federal investigators as the source of the outbreak.