June 17, 2024

Cantaloupe Farmers Avoid Prison After Deadly Listeria Outbreak

Ryan and Eric Jensen, whose farm produced cantaloupe contaminated with Listeria that killed 35 people and sickened more than 100 others, will not serve prison time or be forced to pay a $1.5 million, a federal judge in Denver has ruled. The brothers, who apologized in court,  were sentenced to five years of probation, six months of house arrest and fined $150,000 each. In October, the brothers pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into the marketplace.

CantaloupeThe 2011 cantaloupe Listeria outbreak linked to their farm was one of the deadliest in U.S. history. In addition to the 35 deaths, seven pregnant women were infected. One of them suffered a miscarriage and three babies were born with listeriosis.

The outbreak began in mid-August of 2011 and spread through 28 states sickening 146 people before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared its official end. Investigators  said unsanitary conditions on the farm were found to be the source of the outbreak including newly installed used packing equipment that was difficult to clean and standing water on the packing room floor.

Just weeks before the outbreak, a third-party auditor gave the farm high marks on an inspection. This prompted an investigation into the third-party auditing system used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to oversee growing and processing facilities. The findings, published in a report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, showed third-party auditors often don’t follow FDA guidelines when conducting audits.

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