Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers, Eric and Ryan Jensen, ages 37 and 33, could face up to six years in prison and over a million dollars in fines if they are convicted of six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The two brothers who own and operate a cantaloupe farm are directly linked to a listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and made ill another 147 consumers in 2011. They pleaded not guilty in September.
An article in USA Today quoted the brothers’ released statement, which described the outbreak as a “terrible accident,” yet prosecutors’ decided to pursue the case because so many lives were affected. The Food and Drug Administration said the decision to ship the cantaloupe was “intended to send a message to food producers.”
Listeriosis is an infection to be taken seriously and according to the CDC website, is “usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Symptoms include fever, aching muscles, at times coupled with diarrhea or gastrointestinal symptoms. Infections from Listeria can vary depending on the host’s immune system or other preexisting conditions.” Older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems are most likely to contract the bacterium.
Chris Vanderveen, writing for USA Today, reported that one infected pregnant woman did have a miscarriage. Tammie Palmer of Colorado Springs, CO, said that the upcoming trial on December 2nd won’t help her husband Charles, who died from eating one of the infected cantaloupes. Doctors found that Charles Palmer was already suffering from cancer, and therefore could not fully recover from the listeria infection.
According to the FDA report, a number of reasons could have helped the bacteria develop. “Several areas on both the washing and drying equipment appeared to be un-cleanable, and dirt and product buildup was visible on some areas of the equipment.” The FDA also said that a used potato washing machine that was purchased right before the outbreak could have been a possible cause. According to The Gazette, the Jensen brothers plan to plead guilty under a deal made with federal prosecutors.
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