Operators of cantaloupe farm linked to deadly 2011 Listeria outbreak arrested

DENVER, Colo. - Two men are facing federal charges linked to a deadly 2011 Listeria outbreak that originated in southern Colorado.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, owned and operated Jensen Farms when the outbreak was linked to cantaloupes produced at the facility near Holly.

The Jensen brothers turned themselves over to U.S. Marshals in Denver on Thursday, September 26, 2013, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The six-count indictment and related court records allege that Eric and Ryan Jensen  introduced adulterated cantaloupe into interstate commerce.  Specifically, the cantaloupe bore a poisonous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. The documents also allege that the cantaloupe was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it unsafe to eat.

Court documents allege that the Jensen brothers 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 documents go on to say that 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.

Prosecutors allege that the chlorine spray was never used and that the Jensen's were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed.

The Department of Justice says that an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control found that the Jensens failed to adequately clean their cantaloupe. 

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 33 deaths and 147 hospitalizations. One miscarriage was also attributed to the outbreak.

Both defendants have been charged with six counts of adulteration of a food and aiding and abetting.  If convicted, each faces not more than one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000 per charge.

The Jensen brothers were advised of their rights and the charges they are facing at a hearing at 2 p.m. on Thursday, September 26, 2013. They were then released on $100,000 bond.

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