Farmers Eric and Ryan Jensen face charges over 33 deaths from tainted cantaloupe

jensen.brothers.205x205.jpg
Photos, video and more below.
In a blog post written several months after a 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe grown at Colorado's Jensen Farms caused 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations, attorney Bill Marler, who represents 46 families in the case, wrote that criminal indictments after such incidents are as "rare as hen's teeth." Yet U.S. Attorney John Walsh has now brought charges against Jensen Farms operators Eric and Ryan Jensen. Marler's reaction? He thinks grocery chains also should be hauled into court. Photos, video, a timeline and more below.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has not yet made public the six-count information it filed this week against the Jensen brothers. But according to a news release, the pair "allegedly introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce. Specifically, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. The Information further states that the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health."

jensen.farms.field.jpg
A cantaloupe field at Jensen Farms.
This last statement is key. The Centers for Disease Control long ago linked the fruit to Jensen Farms, via an impressive exhibition of scientific detective work sketched out in a detailed timeline seen in both text and graphic form below.

The results were undeniably tragic. Beyond the aforementioned 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations, the U.S. Attorneys Office points out that a pregnant woman who ate some of the cantaloupe subsequently suffered a miscarriage and ten other people who had been infected also died, albeit not directly from Listeriosis. Moreover, the impact was sweeping: The six shipments of cantaloupe found to have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes were sent to 28 different states.

The trick for prosecutors is establishing that the contamination came as a result of criminal neglect -- and here's how they plan to do it. The court documents argue that the farm's processing center, including a conveyor system for cleaning, cooling and packaging the cantaloupe, should have "worked in such a way that the cantaloupe would be washed with sufficient anti-bacterial solutions so that the fruit was cleaned of bacteria."

But in May 2011, the brothers allegedly switched to a new cleaning system that was built to clean potatoes. The device included a catch pan "to which a chlorine spray could be included to clean the fruit of bacteria," but prosecutors say it was never used. They also argue that "the defendants were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed." This action, they believe, constituted criminal conduct and justified charges of introducing "adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce."

jensen.farms.sign.jpg
In a statement affixed to his website, attorney Marler, based in Seattle, said that "on behalf of my 46 clients, 25 family members of people who died from Listeria and 21 sickened who survived, I am pleased that the U.S. Attorney's Office recognizes that some form of criminal sanctions were appropriate against Jensen Farms for sickening at least 147 people and killing over 33 in 2011 from tainted cantaloupe grown in Colorado."

However, he goes on, "I would urge the U.S. Attorney to consider leveling criminal charges against the retailers, such as Walmart and Kroger, as well." In his view, "these retailers set the specifications for the 'fresh fruits' and ignored them. These retailers required audits that they knew full well would generate a glowing inspection, all the while ignoring what was there to be seen. These retailers then used their market power to squeeze the supply chain of any profit that could have been invested in food safety.

"The relationship between retailers and auditor is simply a conspiracy to keep product flowing through the chain of distribution at the lowest costs, and an attempt to shield retailers from responsibility for the products that they sell," he allows.

Continue for more about the U.S. Attorney's Office actions against the Jensen brothers, including a video and a timeline.



Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
14 comments
Russ Hollar
Russ Hollar

What's sad is this family farm is going to probably go bankrupt. Then another corporate farmer will take over. Too bad you can't sue them or hold them accountable for their negligence. Obomber just signed a law protecting them. Monsanto intentionally poisons food but you are right let's pick on this family.

Russ Hollar
Russ Hollar

Eric Smiles I did read the article and like I said why not oil. British petroleum destroyed a whole ocean due to negligence and no one is in jail. How knowing that and how many wall Street bankers intentionally destroyed our economy, can you say that this family farmer belongs in prison?

Eric Smiles
Eric Smiles

...the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health. Did you read the article?

John Scruggs
John Scruggs

Let's go after Wall Street first. How many died of stress from their premeditated attack. We got mugged by the banksters. A farmer that neglects health standards...was this a bigger risk than losing billions from bankster risk taking that almost destroyed the economy? Prosecute where it counts you bought and sold politically appointed misfits. But, yes I do agree that it a produced sends a known risk into the market, they need to be punished and exposed.

Nikki Zwijacz
Nikki Zwijacz

There is something missing that's for sure......a whole lot! Still this is sad!

Cathy Bowen
Cathy Bowen

It seems extreme but they are setting an example that farmers MUST be more careful when it comes to providing food that we eat.

Sean Gronbeck
Sean Gronbeck

I thought everyone got sick from them letting workers piss and sh*t on the crop? If I killed 33 people for any reason I would be sent to prison.. Maybe, this will make farmer "companies" put port a johns in the fields so the migrant workers dont do their business in the fields.

Steven M Palmer
Steven M Palmer

No. Farmers shouldn't be charged for something defined as an act of God. Only if they were intentionally negligent.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

I believe it was also found that the machines that processed this were a culprit.The idea of prison time is bothersome, as I doubt they knew but aren't they supposed to know some how? I am happy WalMart might be caught in the loop

Scott Adelmann
Scott Adelmann

captain always goes down with his ship, i say make them eat it

Russ Hollar
Russ Hollar

No. Charges aren't necessary. These people did nothing intentional. A naturally occurring bacteria was present in naturally occurring crops in natural soil. Im sorry people were affected but it's hardly criminal. If these folks deserve prison time what about wall Street and oil companies. The things they do intentionally are way worse than what a few cantaloupe farmers did accidentally.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...