Criminal charges for Jensen Farms owners tied to deadly Listeria outbreak

Eric and Ryan Jensen leave a federal court in Denver on Sept. 26, 2013.

Eric and Ryan Jensen leave a federal court in Denver on Sept. 26, 2013.

DENVER — The two brothers who own and operate the Colorado farm tied to 2011’s Listeria outbreak that killed 33 and sicked an additional 147 had criminal charges filed against them this week, according to federal prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed that Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, were taken into custody on federal charges Thursday but were released on a $100,000 bond each.

The charges allege the owners and operators of Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo. introduced adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Jensen Farms cantaloupe that was found to be infected with the poisonous bacteria Listeria monocytogenes was “prepared packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health,” U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh wrote in a press release.

The charges stem from the implementation of a new cleaning system at the farm in May 2011. According to court documents cited by Walsh’s office, the new system was intended to clean potatoes and included a catch pan where a chlorine spray could be used to clean bacteria off the passing fruit.

“The chlorine spray, however, was never used,” Walsh’s office wrote. “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.”

An investigation by the FDA and CDC tied six shipments of contaminated cantaloupe that went out to 28 different states to the outbreak of Listeria poisoning that killed 33, left 147 hospitalized and led one pregnant woman to miscarry, the U.S. Attorney’s office indicated.

“As this case so tragically reminds us, food processors play a critical role in ensuring that our food is safe,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said.  “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.”

Eric and Ryan have both been charged with six counts of adulteration of a food and aiding and abetting. If convicted, each faces up to one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000 per charge.

A tentative trial date has been set for Dec. 2.