The listeria epidemic, in which the deadly illness to spread to 28 states and was later traced to Jensen Farms, in Colorado, was the nation's deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years. The FDA concluded the melons likely were contaminated in the Jensen Farms' packing house, and that dirty equipment and standing water were to blame. They found that the melons were also not adequately washed.
The investigation into the often fatal outbreak of 2011 continues to this day. Colorado farmers Eric and Ryan Jensen appeared in a Denver federal court this week. The brothers pleaded "not guilty" to misdemeanor charges of introducing the contaminated melons into interstate commerce, according to AP. The trial is scheduled to start December 1st. The brothers could possibly spend six years in prison and could owe $1.5 million in fines each, should they be convicted.
In order to bump it to a felony charge, the prosecution would have to prove that the contamination was intentional, as it was in the 2009 peanut contamination case.
Michael Doyle, director of University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety Criminal said that while charges are rare in food-borne illnesses, the FDA has been more aggressive in pursuing farmers and food processors for alleged lapses.
"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," he said.
Methods to upgrade and repair the means to meet the highest standards of food safety would be very expensive, but feasible for most. However, many would argue that because of the recent history of illness and even death from a preventable cause, the bar must be raised so that no one else should die from contaminated produce.
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