Food Safety News reported last night that a plea deal had been reached by the US Attorney’s office and the Jensen bother’s in a six-count federal indictment for “introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.” There was no claim that the Jensens’ showed any intentional conduct – the fact of the introduction of Listeria-tainted cantaloupe into interstate commerce was all that was required for the Jensens to face up to six years in jail and $1,500,000 fine – each.
What the actual punishment should be will be left to the able hands of the US Attorney, Defense Counsel and a Federal Judge. In many respect, the fact that the charge came at all is a win in my view for food safety. These charges have sent a shock wave through the food industry putting CEO’s on notice that if you produce poisoned food – knowingly or not – you could face the loss of your freedom.
I believe that the justice system will find a fair, equitable balance to the Jensens’ charges.
However, as I said a few weeks ago, on behalf of my 46 clients, 25 family members of people who died from Listeria and 21 sickened who survived, I am pleased that the US Attorney’s office recognizes that some form of criminal sanctions were appropriate against Jensen Farms for sickening at least 147 people and killing over 33 in 2011 from tainted cantaloupe grown in Colorado.
That being said, I would urge the US Attorney to consider leveling criminal charges against the retailers, such as Walmart and Kroger, as well. The US Attorney should also consider the same against the auditor, Primus.
These retailers set the specifications for the “fresh fruits” and ignored them. These retailers required audits that they knew full well would generate a glowing inspection, all the while ignoring what was there to be seen. These retailers then used their market power to squeeze the supply chain of any profit that could have been invested in food safety.
The relationship between retailers and auditor is simply a conspiracy to keep product flowing through the chain of distribution at the lowest costs, and an attempt to shield retailers from responsibility for the products that they sell.
We will never have safe food from “Farm to Fork” until the entire chain of distribution is held accountable for the food that they make a profit from.