November 11, 2019

Cantaloupe Farmers Pay Fraction of Restitution for Listeria Outbreak

The brothers who owned the Colorado cantaloupe farm linked to the 2011 Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that sickened 147 people, killed 35, and caused one miscarriage have paid a fraction of the restitution they were initially ordered to pay. Eric and Ryan Jensen, both of Holly Colorado, pleaded guilty in October 2013 to introducing cantaloupe contaminated with Listeria to the marketplace and were ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to victims who lost money because of the outbreak.

Cantaloupe SlicesThose who lost money in connection with the outbreak on medical bills, attorneys fees or funeral expenses and were seeking restitution were to have submitted an account to the court by a deadline last week. Only three people did. Their statements, for $7,624, $4,644 and $916, totaled $13,184. Many of the victims chose not to pursue the restitution because they have filed lawsuits against the Jensens.

“The outbreak had devastating effects on dozens of families,” said Ryan Osterholm, a food safety lawyer who represents several people sickened by the outbreak.  “The fact that so few people claimed restitution does not change that fact.  In this case, many families have chosen instead to file lawsuits against Jensen Farms, using the civil courts system rather than the restitution offered by the criminal courts.  The restitution order is simply one more step in the process that will bring justice and closure to the families injured by this outbreak.”

The 2011 cantaloupe Listeria outbreak was one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Public health investigators determined that unsanitary conditions on the farm including used packing equipment that was difficult to clean and standing water on the packing room floor were the cause of the outbreak. It took investigators weeks to find the cause of this  outbreak. This outbreak prompted officials to tell consumers to wash cantaloupe and other melons before they are cut and eaten.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria, that, if ingested, causes an infection called listeriosis. Symptoms include stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, headache, constipation and persistent fever.  The infection frequently triggers septicemia, pneumonia, and meningitis. Most people with listeriosis require hospitalization. Among pregnant women, listeriosis causes miscarriages, stillbirths and premature labor, even thought the woman is only mildly ill.

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