Congress looking into cantaloupe outbreak as death toll rises

10/26/2011 08:05:00 AM
Chris Koger

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has requested documents from the Colorado cantaloupe shipper implicated in the deadly listeria outbreak even as the number of deaths rose to 28, and it wants to hear from the company’s owners.

On Oct. 21, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a bipartisan letter to Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms to request all documents and communications relevant to the investigation of the outbreak, which has killed 28 people and sickened 133 in 26 states.

The letter also asks that company owners Ryan Jensen and Eric Jensen schedule a briefing with the committee.

“The committee has a long bipartisan history of conducting food safety oversight and is very concerned about these recent developments,” the letter says. “We intend to learn more from the FDA, CDC, Jensen Farms and others who may provide insight into the causes of this outbreak and the prevention of future outbreaks.”

According to an Oct. 25 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 133 people in 26 states have been sickened in the outbreak. The contaminated cantaloupes were shipped by Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms.

It’s the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in the U.S. in more than a decade..

Food and Drug Administration investigators found listeria on cantaloupes at a Colorado retailer and on cantaloupes and equipment at Jensen Farms, Granada, Colo. The recalled cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10.

The letter was signed by committee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif.. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., subcommittee ranking member Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and chairmen emeritus Joe Barton, R-Texas, and John Dingell, D-Mich.

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R.J. Deakins    
Pasadena, Ca.  |  October, 26, 2011 at 10:34 AM

I thought I read that Jensen Farms passed their third party Food Safety just a few short weeks prior to the listeria outbreak. Does anyone have information to this claim?

L VanWinkle    
WA  |  October, 26, 2011 at 11:12 AM

I read that the third party Inspector stated their inspection was at the beginning of harvest and conditions would have been much cleaner than later in the season and that they think the Federal Govt inspections of a cantalope packing shed have requirements that shouldn't be related to the packing of cantalope. I got the impression the third party Inspection firm was trying to cover themselves.

October, 26, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Any ideas on what the company do now? Are they out of business? Will their insurance cover this? They must feel sick over this, but I'm just wondering if you just close up shop after an incident like this.

J.P. Laos    
Bakersfield, Ca.  |  October, 26, 2011 at 09:39 PM

I think this has to be devastating to Jensen Farms. What gripes me most about the situation is how the retailers involved get to "walk" in these situations. They play these shippers against one another until they can find the lowest price. There is some but little regard for true food safety because other than having their name tarnished a little they have little liability. The situation is improving but for sure the retail segment of the produce market is the least governed. Product sold into the food service segment is monitored much closer by the large food service distributors...and...produce sold to a food processor to be used as a food ingredient is very closely monitored. The retailer wants the cheapest price and does not give a supplier much/any consideration for the money being spent to provide a save product. It may be very likely that Jensen was actually trying to do a better job in providing food safety. They actually were washing their cantaloupes....What about Mexican cantaloupes that are field packed and never washed?

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