Friday, October 18, 2013

Jensen brothers plead guilty, look to sue auditing firm

Two interesting stories in The Packer (below) – the Jensen brothers arrested as part of the outbreak related to Listeria in cantaloupes (, plan to plead guilty to the charges. Additionally, they are looking to sue the auditing firm who gave them a 96 out of 100. 

The last point is interesting in that they are basically looking to blame the firm for not giving them a harder audit, and for mot have a complete understanding their entire process. I wonder if the auditing firm was involved when they made the decision to use a potato washer for cleaning and cooling cantaloupes….probably not. As we say, 3rd party audits are snapshots of the operation, but are not designed to do microbiological evaluations of an operation unless there are blatant issues. Processors need to know their processes better than the inspectors, and if they are relying on inspectors to tell them how to process, they need not to be in business.

The Packer

Jensen brothers sue auditing firm in cantaloupe case

10/18/2013 08:05:00 AM
Coral Beach

The growers who are set to plead guilty to federal criminal charges related to the deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to their cantaloupe are suing Primus Labs alleging that company’s subcontracted auditor gave them bad advice.

Various media outlets are reporting the suit, filed in Colorado state court, requests unspecified damages for Eric and Ryan Jensen. The brothers have reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney on the six charges they each face. They could be sentenced to up to six years each and fined up to $1.5 million each.

The third-party food safety audit done just before the Jensens began harvesting their cantaloupe in 2011 scored the fourth-generation Jensen Farms 96 out of 100 possible points. The farm is now bankrupt.

Within weeks people were infected with listeria monocytogenes. At least 33 people died and more than 140 people across the nation were sickened with outbreak strains of listeria found in the Jensens packing facility and on cantaloupe in the packing facility.

An inspection by the Food and Drug Administration found that used potato packing equipment the Jensens were using was not appropriate for cantaloupe because it could not be easily cleaned. The FDA also found fault with the Jensens cooler.

Inspectors also theorized that a truck used to haul culled cantaloupes to a nearby cattle feeding operation transferred listeria from the cattle operation to its parking spot at the Jensens’ farm, where the pathogen was tracked into the packing facility on employees’ shoes.

Jensens plan to plead guilty

 10/16/2013 09:00:00 AMCoral Beach

(UPDATED COVERAGE, 12:10 a.m.) The first growers to face criminal charges in relation to a foodborne illness outbreak plan to plead guilty, which could lead to reduced sentences for brothers charged in the 2011 cantaloupe-related listeria outbreak that killed at least 33 people

The U.S. Attorney’s office negotiated the plea agreements with Eric Jensen, 37, and his brother Ryan Jensen, 33, but Judge Michael Hegarty can reject or amend the agreements. On Oct. 15, the Jensens filed a request with the U.S. District Court in Denver for a hearing on the pleas. Each of the six charges they individually face carries up to one year in prison and $250,000 in fines. If the judge grants the request, they are scheduled to enter their guilty pleas on Oct. 22. Details of the plea agreements were not available Oct. 16.

The Jensens’ attorneys indicated in court documents they would file the actual plea agreements before the Oct. 22 hearing. Richard Banta, the attorney representing Ryan Jensen, confirmed Oct. 16 that the plea hearing requests had been filed, but declined further comment. Staff in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the office said Oct. 3 that staff responses will be limited until the government shutdown is resolved. The Jensens turned themselves in to federal authorities Sept. 26 in Denver and were released on $100,000 bonds. A jury trial was set for Dec. 2.

The six federal misdemeanor criminal charges against them state they allegedly introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce. “Specifically, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous bacteria, listeria monocytogenes. … the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health,” according to court documents.

The government’s case against the Jensen brothers calls into question the packing facility, equipment and cooling areas, which an inspection report by the Food and Drug Administration said were not in line with good agricultural practices. “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,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney

“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.”

According to the FDA report, deficiencies at the packing facility included water pooling on floors, dirt and plant material on equipment, a floor that was difficult to clean, inadequate trench drains and equipment that could not be properly cleaned.

Multiple environmental samples and whole cantaloupe from the packing shed were positive for the outbreak strains of listeria monocytogenes, FDA reported. “… it is likely that the contamination occurred in the packing facility,” the FDA report states. “It is also likely that the contamination proliferated during cold storage.”

The FDA inspectors reported all field samples were negative for listeria monocytogenes. The samples included soil, wild animal excrement, perimeter and furrow drag swabs, agricultural water, pond water and cantaloupes. The agency also pointed to another likely contamination source, a truck used to haul culled cantaloupes from the packing shed to a cattle feeding operation. - See more at:

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