Eric and ryan jensen plead guilty to all counts of introducing tainted cantaloupe into interstate commerce
DENVER -- Eric Jensen, age 37, and Ryan Jensen, age 33, brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms, located in Granada, Colorado, pled guilty this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty to all six counts of the government’s Information which charged them with introduction of adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce, United States Attorney John Walsh and Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Patrick Holland announced. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Magistrate Judge Hegarty on January 28, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. Eric and Ryan Jensen were first charged by Information on September 24, 2013. They made their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Denver on September 26, 2013.
According to the stipulated facts in the plea agreement, as well as other court documents, Eric and Ryan Jensen were responsible for a farm in Granada, Colorado, where they grew, picked, packaged, sold and shipped cantaloupe. In six separate shipments, the cantaloupe produced by the Jensens bore a poisonous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, which rendered it injurious to health.
The court documents further state that the defendants set up and maintained a processing center where cantaloupes were taken from the field and transferred to a conveyor system for cleaning, cooling and packaging. The equipment should have worked in such a way that the cantaloupe would be washed with sufficient anti-bacterial solutions so that the fruit was cleaned of bacteria in the process.
In May of 2011 the Jensen brothers allegedly changed their cantaloupe cleaning system. The new system, built to clean potatoes, was installed, and was to include a catch pan to which a chlorine spray could be included to clean the fruit of bacteria. The chlorine spray, however, was never used. The defendants were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed. The chlorine spray, if used, would have reduced the risk of microbial contamination of the fruit.
Investigation by the FDA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the defendants failed to adequately clean their cantaloupe. They then maintained the fruit in unsanitary conditions . Their actions allegedly resulted in at least six shipments of cantaloupe contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes being sent to 28 different states. The CDC tracked the outbreak-associated illness and determined that people living in 28 states consumed contaminated cantaloupe, resulting in at least 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations. Further, one woman pregnant at the time of her outbreak-related illness had a miscarriage. Ten additional deaths not specifically attributed to Listeriosis occurred among persons who had been infected by eating outbreak-related cantaloupe.
“The defendants have now admitted that they failed to protect the public from deadly bacteria on their cantaloupe, in violation of the law and critical FDA requirements,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Their actions resulted in tragedy nationwide, and profound economic consequences for an entire industry, and has exposed them to these serious criminal consequences.”
“According to CDC estimates, roughly 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each year. I applaud the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado for standing up for the 147 known victims in this case,” said Patrick J. Holland, Special Agent in Charge of the FDA—Office of Criminal Investigations. Prosecutions like this heightened awareness among food growers, processors and distributors and demonstrate the critical role they play in the health and safety of every American.”
Both defendants have pled guilty to six counts of adulteration of a food and aiding and abetting. If convicted, each defendant faces not more than one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.
This case was investigated by the FDA -- Office of Criminal Investigations, the Center for Disease Control and the State of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena.