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Colo. Farmers Arrested In Listeria Outbreak That Killed 33

Update Date: Sep 30, 2013 09:49 AM EDT

Owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm have been arrested on charges stemming from a listeria outbreak in 2011. The listeria outbreak killed 33 people and affected 147.

The listeria epidemic traced to Jensen Farms was one of the deadliest food-borne illnesses in the nation. The deadly conditions on the Jensen Farms was responsible for spreading the illness to 28 states.

It was concluded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the melons specifically were contaminated at the Jensen Farms’ packing house.

"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 FDA said.

“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 Criminal.

The warning from the FDA is not the first one. In February, four former employees of a peanut company were also charged. The Georgia federal court charged them with scheming to manufacture and ship tainted peanuts.

“We cannot say that with bag salads because we don’t have that true-kill step that will kill harmful bacteria,” Doyle later added.

Michael Hirakata, president of the Rocky Ford Growers Association feels that producing low-profit business with improved safety practices are feasible.

“This was the business we’re in and we wanted to keep doing it, so for us, it was feasible,” Hirakata said. “I know there’s several smaller farmers in our association (that have) done it. The consumer confidence is there, so it’s working.”

The trial for the Colorado farmers is scheduled to start on Dec 1. If they are convicted they each can face up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

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