Charges against Jensen Farms owners unprecedented
DENVER — Two arrests Thursday in what is the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in our country in at least 75 years.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office arrested the owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm linked to a listeria outbreak in 2011 that killed dozens of people.
They’re unprecedented charges against two men who unknowingly grew and shipped contaminated cantaloupe.
But some say the government needs to hold others accountable for the deadly outbreak to keep it from happening again.
“I miss my dad a lot. He was a really good dad,” says Jennifer Exley, about her dad, Herb Stevens, who died two years after contracting listeria from a contaminated cantaloupe from Jensen Farms.
“I go visit his gravesite at Logan routinely. But I know he’s in a better place with God,” says Exley.
On Thursday, she visits the federal courthouse to see two other men.
Brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen today are charged with introducing an adulterated food into interstate commerce and aiding and abetting.
They are crimes the government says led to the deaths of 33 people and hospitalization of 147.
“I feel like they had a fourth generation farm and should know these practices but they didn’t, or they chose to ignore them and chose to be sloppy,” says Exley.
Court documents claim the brothers used a cleaning machine meant for potatoes—and even then, never used a chlorine spray on their cantaloupe.
“It sends a message if you take shortcuts and you don’t invest in food safety, you will be held accountable,” says foodborne illness attorney Bill Marler.
He represents 46 people who got sick or whose relatives died from listeria. He says criminal charges should be expanded to include retailers, like Kroger and Walmart, and the auditor, Primus, who gave Jensen Farms the all-clear to ship their poisonous harvest.
“That auditor gave a 96 rating before listeria was found on the farm. When you don’t have a microbial wash in place that should have stopped there production right then and there,” says Exley.
It’s too late for Exley and her family.
But they hope these charges are a wake-up call for food manufacturers they have to pay better attention to foodborne pathogens—or else.
Stevens is not part of the official 33 dead.
He’s one of 10 in which listeria contributed to their deaths.
The Jensen brothers are out on $100,000 bond. Each faces up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines, if convicted on each of the six misdemeanors.
Their jury trial begins in December.
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