Listeria Outbreak That Killed 33 Results In Arrest Of Farmers

A deadly listeria outbreak that killed 33 people in 2011 has resulted in two misdemeanor arrests.

The listeria outbreak arrests have posed an interesting legal debate, hinging on what level of responsibility is borne by owners and operators after an incident of such magnitude occurs. Eric and Ryan Jensen, ages 37 and 33, owned the currently bankrupt Jensen Farms, and allegations in the case stem from practices that allowed the potentially deadly contamination to reach so many tables.

The Jensen brothers sold cantaloupe grown on their Colorado farm, and investigators say that the pair chose not to use a listeria-inhibiting spray on the melons implicated in the outbreak. Furthermore, food inspectors said, dirty conveyor belts allowed the dangerous food-borne pathogen to spread more effectively, and more than 150 people were seriously sickened.

The New York Times explains that the listeria outbreak may have been avoidable:

“Federal prosecutors said the owners, the brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen, were arrested on misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The Jensens’ lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment… Prosecutors said the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had determined that the Jensens had not adequately cleaned the cantaloupe.”

A Seattle based lawyer named Bill Marler was one of the first to call upon the U.S. Attorney’s Office and request criminal charges in the deadly listeria outbreak, and Marler explains why the case is notable, saying:

“The real significance of the case against the Jensens is they are being charged with misdemeanors, which do notrequire intent, just the fact that they shipped contaminated food using interstate commerce.”

In a statement, the Jensen brothers say the listeria outbreak resulted from a terrible accident, and not negligence as alleged in the misdemeanor charges filed against them.