By Sam Lewis
Former Colorado farm owners face up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines
On Thursday, Sept 26 Eric and Ryan Jensen surrendered to U.S. Marshals in Denver. The brothers, ages 37 and 33, respectively, have been charged with six federal misdemeanor charges in relation to a 2011 Listeria outbreak linked to their former company’s cantaloupes. The brothers have pled not guilty to all charges brought against them, and are free on $100,000 bond until their trial Dec 2.
The brothers are being blamed for one of the most deadly outbreaks of food related illnesses in U.S. history. The outbreak occurred across several states, killing more than 30 people and hospitalizing nearly 150. The occurrence has been called one of the most deadly food related illness outbreaks in U.S. history. Located near the KS border in Granado, CO, the brothers’ company, Jensen Farms, has gone out of business due to numerous civil lawsuits related to the late 2011 event.
The FDA and CDC led an investigation of the outbreak that determined the Jensens failed to appropriately clean their cantaloupe. Jensen Farms’ fruit cleaning machines were built for cleaning potatoes. Further, the machines included a sprayer intended to dispense chlorine to eliminate surface bacteria. Investigators determined that chlorine was never used. The actions of employees at Jensen Farms led to no fewer than six shipments of fruit contaminated with Listeria sent to 28 states. “As this case so tragically reminds us, food processors play a critical role in ensuring that our food is safe,” says U.S. Attorney John 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.”
In addition to the 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations, the CDC determined the contaminated fruit was responsible for a pregnant woman’s illness which led to a miscarriage. Also, ten non-Listeria linked deaths are attributed to eating the outbreak-related fruit.
The federal misdemeanor charges were brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation, headed by Walsh and Special Agent in Charge, Patrick Holland. Eric and Ryan Jensen are accused of aiding and abetting in the introduction of adulterated food in interstate commerce. If convicted on all 6 misdemeanor counts — each carrying a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to a year in prison — the Jensens could face a fine of $1.5 million and up to six years in federal prison.