From US Attorney Press Release:
Eric Jensen, age 37, and Ryan Jensen, age 33, brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms, located in Granada, Colorado, presented themselves to U.S. marshals in Denver today and were taken into custody on federal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigation, United States Attorney John Walsh and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations Special Agent in Charge Patrick Holland announced.
The Information charges the brothers with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The defendants were scheduled to make their initial appearance this afternoon at 2 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty. At that hearing they were to be advised of their rights as well as the charges pending against them.
According to the six-count Information filed under restriction on Sept. 24, 2013, as well as other court records, Eric and Ryan Jensen allegedly introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce. Specifically, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous 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 Jensen 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 Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the defendants failed to adequately clean their 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 illness 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.
“As this case so tragically reminds us, food processors play a critical role in ensuring that our food is safe,” said Walsh. “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.”
“U.S. consumers should demand the highest standards of food safety and integrity,” said Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Holland of the FDA-Office of Criminal Investigations, Kansas City Field Office. “The filing of criminal charges in this deadly outbreak sends the message that absolute care must be taken to ensure that deadly pathogens do not enter our food supply chain.”
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.
This case was investigated by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, the Center for Disease Control and the State of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena.