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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

AP and Denver Post Profile Marler Clark Listeria Cantaloupe Cases

The families of George Drinkwalter’s “Neb. family hopes changes follow listeria outbreak” and William Beach “Family of listeria victim, 87, shocked by news of cause”, honored their husbands and fathers by speaking out about their lives and their untimely deaths.  Food producers and politicians – pay attention!  Here are some exerpts:

William Beach did what old folks with sensitive stomachs do: He found cantaloupe was agreeing with him that week, and so he ate it for five days straight.

Beach’s wife, Monette, was happy to keep buying the melons for her retired husband — until the former Oklahoma truck driver got so sick that he couldn’t speak or climb up off the floor where he had fallen.

At an Oklahoma City hospital on Sept. 1, the ailing, 87-year-old great-grandfather bled so profusely during an intubation attempt that the family was “devastated” from all the blood, one of Beach’s daughters said.

“I knew about food poisoning,” said Hathaway, 61. “I certainly didn’t know you could get it from cutting into a cantaloupe and using the same knife to cut it up.”

Like others, the Beach family has joined a lawsuit filed against Jensen Farms and its distributor, Frontera Produce. They said they hope the suit will help bring out answers to the outbreak and prevent future listeria cases.

Hathaway and Graham said their focus is now on their mother, who is 85. She and William had lived independently until now, going to their local community center to walk 16 laps to reach a mile.

“I worry about her. She just cries and cries,” Hathaway said. “She asks me, Brenda, did he suffer? We’re not leaving her alone. We don’t expect her to go back to the house.”

George Drinkwalter’s relatives hope no other family will have to endure what they have in the past month. They say the Cody, Neb., man’s life was cut short because of the fruit he chose to eat for breakfast.

“It was hard to watch him die the way he did die,” Randy Drinkwalter, of North Platte, one of George’s four sons, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.

Drinkwalter’s wife, Isla, said he was in good health before eating cantaloupe for breakfast a couple days in a row. In fact, George Drinkwalter had visited his doctor for a check-up and was told he was looking good shortly before he showed any symptoms, she said.

On Sept. 8, he started shaking, she said. The next day, he fell at home and had to be rushed by ambulance to the Valentine, Neb., hospital.

“He was still doing good until this damn cantaloupe deal,” said Keith Drinkwalter, who lives in Chadron.

The Drinkwalter family hasn’t decided yet whether file a lawsuit against the cantaloupe producer and distributors. Family members hope that telling their story might help lead to a safer food production system, and maybe more consumers will be inspired to take precautions such as washing fruits and vegetables and cooking meat thoroughly.

“If we could prevent one other family from going through what we have, it will be worth it,” Keith Drinkwalter said.

“Somehow we’ve got to figure out a way, so it doesn’t happen again,” said Darrell Drinkwalter, who lives in Casper, Wyo.

  • Mrs. Mudder

    Many Prayers for the families in this food poisoning outbreak.
    This is the time for everyone to change for our healthy, safe, and CLEAN food!!
    We need to educate, motivate, and articulate LIFE IS SHORT!
    We should ,at least, be able to depend on our healthy,safe,and CLEAN food! My Motto is:

  • John Munsell

    These horrific illnesses and deaths must devastate families, creating immeasurable pain, and lasting and ugly memories. Preventing future outbreaks will benefit everyone, and hopefully circumvent such pain.
    Articles I’ve seen on the cantelope outbreak reveal that no one has determined the true origin of the listeria. Granted, we know it came from melons grown at Jensen Farms. Was the Jensen family negligent? No one knows yet, since no one has yet determined how listeria came to exist at the farm. If Jensen Farms utilized the same agricultural practices traditionally used by the cantelope industry, how can they be negligent?
    Hopefully, our focus will center on how listeria came to exist at Jensen Farms, and then devise industry-wide Good Agriculture Practices (GAP’s) to address this pathogen. Implementing such new protocol is the contribution produce growers can invest into public health. The article above states “maybe more consumers will be inspired to take precautions such as washing fruits and vegetables and cooking meat thoroughly”. This is a contribution consumers can invest into their own health. My wife cooked chicken earlier this week, but initially presoaked the chicken in a chlorine/water mixture, addressing the likelihood of salmonella. Ten years ago, we did not do this, as we were gnorant of the incidence of salmonella in chicken at that time. We’ve since changed many food preparation practices, now that we are more familiar with the incidence of pathogens in our food supply.
    Frankly, we must combine improved food production practices with improved food preparation practices if we desire a long-term improvement in food safety and public health.
    Right now, we simply must determine how listeria invades produce fields. Jensen Farms may likewise be a victim in this outbreak: the Jensens may not be sick, but this outbreak’s impact on their bottom line will be lethal. Once the Jensens have been put out of business, we still need to address the issue of how listeria comes into existence in cantelope. Once we determine the source, we must then force the source to clean up its act. My perception is that Jensen Farms is NOT the source, but a carrier. No one knows.
    John Munsell

  • Bix

    I read on Jim Prevor’s site:
    “What the California cantaloupe industry found was that one should not wash a cantaloupe. That moisture itself is the enemy of safety. California packers, who were proud of their wash systems, shut them off.”
    “Jensen Farms washed all its cantaloupes,” even though, “the science says don’t get them wet.”
    I haven’t been getting my cantaloupes wet these days. But I don’t really know.