I had a chance to talk with Tim Linden of Produce News Daily about where this Cantaloupe mess is headed:

road_map.gifBill Marler, a prominent Seattle-based attorney known for his involvement in food-safety litigation, has filed seven lawsuits and currently represents at least two dozen individuals or families of people who have become sick or have died because of the outbreak.

Mr. Marler told The Produce News that at the end of the day, this will be one of the larger food-safety settlements ever, and certainly will be the largest in the fresh produce industry.

He estimated that settlements will reach $125 million to $150 million, and he speculated that many companies along the supply chain will have to get involved to settle these cases or will be drawn into court trials.

Mr. Marler said that Jensen Farms is clearly culpable, but he added that the distributor of the cantaloupes as well as retailers and the third-party auditor could all be brought into the case.

At least 25 retailers sold the product to consumers, including some of the nation’s larger and better-known chains.

Mr. Marler said that the favorable third-party audit will have little impact since company-paid audits offer little protection in all manufacturing, including the food industry. The audit, he said, “is like having a small sheet [for protection] on a cold winter night; it’s not a big warm blanket.”

The attorney, who made a name for himself during the E. coli outbreak nearly 20 years ago that was tied to the Jack-in-the-Box fast-food chain, expects retailers to come forward to settle these cases. He said that is a common occurrence when the source of a problem is a small operation with little money.

Mr. Marler cited a current case in which he is involved in which 40 people became ill from eating raw milk cheese. He said that the retailer has settled most of those cases because the farm involved was small and had no assets.

The “road kill” of this outbreak are our friends and neighbors.  It is time for the Grower, Processor, Broker, Shipper, Auditor, Retailer to step up.  There are medical bills, wage loss, and yes, funeral expenses to pay for.  The map leads directly to you.