Sep 26, 2013
Jensen brothers charged in cantaloupe incident

Cantaloupe growers Eric and Ryan Jensen were charged in federal court Sept. 26 with six counts of allegedly introducing adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo., each face federal criminal charges in relation to the deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to their fruit.

According to a news release from Denver-based U.S. Attorney John Walsh and Patrick Holland of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. The charges allege the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions that rendered it injurious to health.

Court documents state that the defendants “set up and maintained a processing center where cantaloupes were taken from the field and transferred to a conveyor system for cleaning, cooling and packaging. The equipment should have worked in such a way that the cantaloupe would be washed with sufficient antibacterial solutions so that the fruit was cleaned of bacteria in the process.”

FDA assisted with the investigation into the outbreak, which sickened 147 people in 28 states. At least 33 people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the release, “the defendants were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed … Investigation by the FDA and the CDC determined that the defendants failed to adequately clean their cantaloupe.”

Both brothers have been charged with six counts of adulteration of a food and aiding and abetting. If convicted, each faces not more than one year in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 per charge.

“As this case so tragically reminds us, food processors play a critical role in ensuring that our food is safe,” Walsh said in the release. “They bear a special responsibility to ensure that the food they produce and sell is not dangerous to the public. Where they fail to live up to that responsibility, and as these charges demonstrate, this office and the Food and Drug Administration have a responsibility to act forcefully to enforce the law.”

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