In a highly unusual move, federal prosecutors have decided to bring little-used criminal charges against the two brothers who operated a cantaloupe farm in southeastern Colorado that was linked to a massive listeria outbreak in 2011 that led to 147 serious illnesses across 28 states and to the deaths of 33 people. Their operation, Jensen Farms, which is now bankrupt and out of business, was determined to be the cause of the outbreak, which was the single deadliest foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States since 1924.
The brothers, Eric Jensen, 37 and Ryan Jensen, 33, were arrested on September 26 and each was charged with six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The charges are quite unusual. Over the last ten years, only four others have faced such charges. Their trial is scheduled for Dec. 2.
Back in August 2011, a thorough investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined a direct link between the listeria outbreak and Jensen Farms cantaloupe. In October that year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that Jensen Farms’ packing and storage facilities likely helped spread the listeria and directly contributed to the outbreak by not cleaning the cantaloupe properly before shipping. According to the FDA, the possible cause for the outbreak was a used hard-to-clean potato washing machine that Jensen Farms purchased right before the outbreak. Inspectors also found dirty water on the floor of the packing center, and positive listeria samples were found throughout the packing facility.
The FDA also noted that the method for cooling the cantaloupes after being picked may have caused some of the listeria growth, and that another possible contamination source may have been a truck that frequently hauled the cantaloupe to a cattle operation and which was often parked near the packing house.
Listeria bacteria can often lead to listeriosis infection, which can be very serious, especially for children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and especially pregnant women, since they can pass on the infection to their fetus, which can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or the baby being born sick. Common symptoms of listeriosis can include stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, as well as fever and muscle aches. In some cases, listeriosis can lead to convulsions and possible neurological problems, and even death.
If you suspect you may have been infected by contamination with listeria, see a doctor immediately. If you believe you may have contracted it from contaminated food, contact the Food Poisoning Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm immediately, in order to preserve evidence and your rights.