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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Dealing in Death – Cantaloupes and Listeria

Since “organicfarmer” posted this comment on Food Safety News last week, I have not been able to shake it from my head:

It’s really sad that farms and farmers are getting the brunt of this. I am sad these people died, but median age of 78…. give me a break. I my opinion there is no possible way to make all food safe for all people. I grow food, take extreme precautions to keep the farm as clean from pathogens as possible, but these bacteria are everywhere in the soil. Advances in science are a double edged sword. People have succumbed from so-called food poisons since the beginning of time. It’s probably good common sense to not eat raw foods if you’re old or have a compromised immune system. Now pathogenic bacteria have been found inside the cells of lettuce. No amount of washing will ‘clean’ it.

Perhaps because I spent most of the last week talking to families whose parents or spouses are fighting for their lives or have died too soon – because they ate a damn cantaloupe, or because I am about to drive out to see by 80 plus year old parents, I find “organicfamer”’s comments insensitive at best.  Certainly his attitude towards the elderly makes me wonder who purchases his farm products?  Frankly, I would take a pass.

Of course his response to me calling him out on his “shit happens” approach to life is to trot out how bad lawyers are and to say about me: “I resent him and all he stands for.”

Dear Mr. unnamed “organicfarmer”, this is what I stand for – people should not be sickened and/or die from eating cantaloupe.  Here is just a sample of people impacted and have the courage to stick up for themselves and other consumers by filing lawsuits – and using their names openly:

William Beach 2.jpegWilliam T. Beach consumed cantaloupe in early August. Mr. Beach subsequently fell ill and on approximately August 28th, was taken to the hospital by ambulance after his wife, Monette, found him collapsed on the living room floor, unable to speak or breathe regularly. Mr. Beach was discharged from the hospital two days later, but his condition worsened and he was again rushed to the hospital, where he died after a failed intubation procedure. The Oklahoma State Department of Health later contacted one of Mr. Beach’s six daughters to inform them that Mr. Beach had tested positive for Listeria and died from his infection.

Clarence Wells.jpegClarence Wells consumed cantaloupe on multiple occasions before becoming ill with symptoms of Listeria infection, including fluid retention, on August 23, 2011. By August 25, Mr. Wells had gained 9 pounds and had begun having difficulty breathing. He was taken to the emergency room, and was admitted to John’s Hopkins Medical Center later that day. On the morning of August 31, Mr. Wells’ condition deteriorated and his family was called to the hospital, where they found him unconscious. They never spoke to him, or saw him awake, again. Mr. Wells died the evening of August 31, 2011.

Gomez copy.jpgJuanita Gomez consumed cantaloupe purchased from a local grocery store in early August. By August 20, Mrs. Gomez became ill and developed a fever. When her symptoms progressed, she was taken to the hospital where her temperature measured 105.6 degrees F, her eyes became glassy, and she was unable to respond to simple questions. Tests later confirmed she had been infected with the same strain of Listeria linked to an ongoing outbreak that has been traced to defendant Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Mrs. Gomez was released from the hospital on August 24 and continues to recover at her home

CharlesPalmerPic.jpegCharles Palmer consumed the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in mid-August. He had purchased one whole cantaloupe at the Wal-Mart store located on Razorback Road in Colorado Springs several days before. He fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria infection, including headache and fatigue, on August 30. The next morning, Mr. Palmer’s wife found him unresponsive and immediately rushed her husband to the hospital, where he has remained ever since. He has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, the strain of Listeria involved in the cantaloupe outbreak.

Herbert Stevens and his wife purchased Jensen Farms-grown Rocky Ford cantaloupe from a Littleton grocery store in early August. On August 24, 84-year-old Mr. Stevens fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis and became incapacitated. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he tested positive for the same strain of Listeria that is involved in the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak. Mr. Stevens remained hospitalized until several days ago, when he was transferred to a long-term care facility. It is not clear if he will be able to return home.

And, “organicfamer” there are dozens of others I spoke to – the family of an 80 year old man who needlessly died in Nebraska and the 56 year old who died in Kansas, or the others who became ill and are struggling to recover or the ones still in ICU on life support who will soon raise the CDC death toll.

Mr. “organicfarmer,” there are a lot of people who hate me – mostly corporations who poison people – and, honestly, I really do not give a damn.  Mr. “organicfamer” you may hate me along with the Cargills, Doles, et al of the world – you, my friend are in fine company.

And, here is AP’s “For Listeria victims, sudden turns for the worse” that just crossed the wire.

  • Keith Warriner

    Good points well made. In the 1980’s everyone viewed foodborne illness outbreaks at the cost of doing business. Now there are consequences of causing foodborne illness which ultimately increase standards even at the cost of those who wish to go back to Food Safety Year Zero.

  • Steve Gilman

    I wonder if a post like the one from “organicfarmer” would happen if people were required to use their real name in the comment sections — and take full responsibility for their views and what they say.
    And I wonder if this “organicfarmer” person is really a shill for groups/someone looking to slur the good name of organic farmers… sure looks like they got some good mileage out of the ploy…

  • Bill:
    I have seen hundreds of farmers in the last 6 years and evaluated their food safety efforts as a third party auditor representing the major buyers of produce in the US, and have developed food safety plans for about 25 facilities and farms.
    I strongly disagree that foodborne illness is inevitable. The microbes, whether they be in soil, in humans, animals, water or manure have a particular way of doing their devilish thing. We can spot those pathways, and cut them off. Food safety is not an accident and we must get smarter about what we do and how we do it.
    These events result from the fact that we have not learned exactly how to implement our controls at optimal levels. Outbreaks of this nature just should not happen, and when they do, there should be traceability systems in place that quickly and clearly identify the source and location of all affected products. We have made strides, but there was a major failure in this regard.
    The post from the organicfarmer does nothing to help this situation. His “oh well” attitude is not acceptable. This is not acceptable to the buyers that I represent, to the public health community or to consumers and this person should be ashamed of themselves. If he and his operation were known, there would not be one reputable buyer who would be willing to purchase his products, no wonder he remains anonymous. He is in a small minority of farmers; most care about the wellbeing of consumers and would be shocked to hear one of their own saying its ok that people die, as long as they are elderly.
    We must find out what the cause of this terrible tragedy was, otherwise we are bound to repeat it. Unfortunately, we in the food safety community often are not told exactly what happened and why.
    You and your firm are the primary reason we have such a strong buyer commitment to food safety. You are justified not to care about the criticism of people with an anti-public health agenda.
    The people that hate you would also hate being in front of a firing squad if they were in China, or seeing their loved ones die an agonizing death.
    Go forth and conquer.

  • D. Smith

    Mr. Marler,
    I don’t agree with the other gentleman’s “que sera, que sera” attitude, but has anyone presented any evidence that Jensen Farms’ practices were somehow negligent?
    Raw cantaloupe might be more dangerous than raw milk – never would have seen that coming.