FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) – A local man whose father died from eating listeria contaminated cantaloupe in 2011 has some advice for loved ones affected by the latest string of infections.
Paul Schwarz, Jr.’s death was traced back to cubed cantaloupe he ordered at a Prairie Village restaurant, which came from Colorado’s Jensen Farms. His death was one of 33 nationwide in that outbreak.
His son, also named Paul Schwarz, found out about the Blue Bell ice cream deaths Friday afternoon and immediately thought about the families who have been affected.
“I feel horrible for them,” Schwarz said. “I know what they’re going through.”
Schwarz watched his father go from a vibrant and spry 92-year-old to a bed-ridden man gone mad with dementia. He knows the pain that comes with watching three months of suffering and deterioration.
“It’s something that could happen to anybody,” Schwarz said.
His father was shot twice in the South Pacific, earning him two Purple Hearts during World War II, but died due to something as mundane and seemingly safe as a breakfast fruit cup. The circumstances anger Schwarz to this day.
“Our lives matter,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to take a bite of cantaloupe or ice cream and possibly get sick and die.”
Schwarz says government inspections of farms like Jensen and plants like Blue Bell need to happen more often.
The roadblock isn’t technology, he says, but staffing, and the money that requires.
“It’s just hard to fathom that this could happen in this day and age,” said Schwarz.
In the past 3-1/2 years, Schwarz has made several trips to the nation’s capital to speak about his father’s life and death in an effort to push for stricter regulations. He has had four speaking engagements in consort with the Pew Charitable Trust. He has prodded lawmakers on the federal and state levels. But he says it often feels like a futile fight.
“I’d like to see more inspections,” Schwarz said, “but that will never happen with what’s going on in Congress right now.”
That’s why he urges others affected to get a lawyer, not for the money, but for the message a successful lawsuit can send.
“Right now that’s the only thing to help clean up the industry,” said Schwarz, “Whatever needs to be done. Hold people accountable.”
His family’s lawsuit against Jensen Farms and the other companies involved in his father’s death was resolved just this year, more than three years after it was filed. He says he’d gladly give back every dime to get his dad back.
“We should demand safe food,” said Schwarz. “This is the United States of America. We certainly can find funds to be sure that what people eat is safe.”
Thursday would have been his father’s 96th birthday, had he lived, so Saturday Schwarz will take a break from his activism to pay tribute to the man behind his fight. He will be visiting his father’s grave at the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.