It was called an unusual move last year when the Colorado cantaloupe growers who relied upon the Primus Group sued their third-party food-safety auditor, claiming that the inspector the company sent them provided misleading advice and “erroneously” represented himself as having “professional” expertise.
Last week, however, a third-party auditor being sued over an outbreak of foodborne illness became a little less rare. Cincinnati-based Kroger Company filed a cross claim June 2 in a state case naming Primus and the Texas-based distributor, Frontera Produce Ltd., as defendants in the wrongful death of a Colorado victim of the 2011 Listeria outbreak traced back to cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms.
Kroger claims that Primus has primary liability for the outbreak, which resulted in brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen pleading guilty to six federal misdemeanors. The Jensens were eventually assessed fines and required to do six months of home detention.
In its claim against Primus, Kroger says that the third-party auditor misrepresented conditions of the ranch lands and packing house at Jensen Farms by giving them superior ratings instead of failing the growers’ operation.
Primus has not yet responded to the Kroger claim, but in other litigation involving victims of the outbreak — in which there were at least 33 deaths and 147 illnesses in 28 states — the California company has declined to accept any liability.
Ten others who were infected with the outbreak-associated subtype also died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The overall fatality rate for the outbreak was slightly less than 30 percent.
In the investigation that followed the outbreak, state and federal officials found numerous food safety violations at Jensen Farms, even though Primus gave the facility a 96-percent (or superior) rating, saying it met or exceeded established cantaloupe production standards.© Food Safety News