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Farm Owners of Listeria Contaminated Cantaloupe Outbreak in 2011 Face Charges

Update Date: Sep 28, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
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The owners of Jensen Farms who grew listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in an outbreak that killed 33 people nationwide and sickened hundreds more, have been criminally charged Thursday by federal authorities.

The contaminated cantaloupe killed 33, linked to one miscarriage, in addition to leaving 147 people sick nationwide. The company, based in Colorado, later filed for bankruptcy, according to the Associated Press.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, turned themselves in to federal marshals and pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into the food supply.

The brothers were charged with allegedly introducing cantaloupes containing the poisonous listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Also, the cantaloupes were "prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health," the complaint added.

The criminal prosecution "sends the message that absolute care must be taken to ensure that deadly pathogens do not enter our food supply chain," the  federal Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Friday.

The federal charges each carry up to one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. A trial date was set for Dec. 2.

"I think the FDA is sending a strong message that the produce industry is going to have to raise the bar to ensure the safety of the, basically, ready-to-consume foods," said Michael Doyle, director of University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety.

It's the second such warning from the agency, Doyle said. In February, four former employees of a peanut company were charged in Georgia federal court with scheming to manufacture and ship tainted peanuts. A 2009 salmonella outbreak blamed on the peanuts killed nine people and sickened hundreds.

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