Denver, CO, United States (4E) – The owners of a cantaloupe farm blamed for the listeria outbreak in 2011 were taken into custody on Thursday after they were criminally charged with distributing poisonous food.
Brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen pleaded not guilty to six counts of adulteration of food plus aiding and abetting after U.S. Marshals shackled them during their federal court hearing in Denver, according to a press release issued by John Walsh, U.S. Attorney of the District of Colorado.
Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, were also charged with preparing, packing and holding cantaloupes under conditions which rendered it injurious to health, based on the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The owners of the Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado are facing one year in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 per charge if convicted.
The complaint said the Jensen brothers did not use chlorine spray installed on their farm’s cantaloupe cleaning system. The spray could have reduced the risk of microbial contamination of the fruit after washing.
The FDA and the Center for Disease Control, which investigated the source of the listeria outbreak, found the Jensens negligent in adequately cleaning their cantaloupes.
Jensen Farms shipped Rocky Ford-labeled cantaloupes tainted with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria to 28 states from July 29 through September 10, 2011 leading to 33 deaths and sickening of 147 people who ate the fruit. The cantaloupes were recalled on Sept. 14, 2011. Ten additional deaths not attributed to Listeriosis occurred among persons who had been infected by eating outbreak-related cantaloupe.
Listeria infection or listeriosis can cause fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. People with weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to the infection.