Farm Owners Charged; Tainted Cantaloupe in Interstate Commerce; 33 Deaths

Two brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms, located in Granada, Colorado, presented themselves to U.S. Marshals in Denver recently, where they were taken into custody on federal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation. The brothers were charged with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. At the hearing they will be advised of their rights as well as the charges pending against them.


According to the six-count information filed under restriction on September 24, 2013, as well as other court records, the brothers allegedly introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce. Specifically, the cantaloupe bore the potentially deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. The information further states that the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which 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 anti-bacterial solutions so that the fruit was cleaned of bacteria in the process.


In May of 2011, the brothers allegedly changed their cantaloupe cleaning system. The new system, built to clean potatoes, was installed, and was to include a catch pan to which a chlorine spray could be included to clean the fruit of bacteria. The chlorine spray, however, was never used. The defendants were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed. The chlorine spray, if used, would have reduced the risk of microbial contamination of the fruit.


Investigation by the FDA and the CDC determined that the defendants failed to adequately clean the cantaloupe. Their actions allegedly resulted in at least six shipments of cantaloupe contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes being sent to 28 different states. The CDC tracked the outbreak-associated illnesses and determined that people living in 28 states consumed contaminated cantaloupe, resulting in 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations. Further, one woman pregnant at the time of her outbreak-related illness had a miscarriage. Ten additional deaths not attributed to Listeriosis occurred among persons who had been infected by eating outbreak-related cantaloupe.


Both defendants 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.


See the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado’s Announcement


See also Medical Law Perspectives, July 2012 Report: Foodborne Illness: When Grabbing a Bite Can Be Deadly