Last week I was interviewed by The Produce News:
Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle-based attorney known for his involvement in food-safety litigation, has filed seven lawsuits and currently represents at least two-dozen individuals or families of people who have become sick or have died because of the outbreak.
Mr. Marler told The Produce News that at the end of the day, this will be one of the larger food-safety settlements ever, and certainly will be the largest in the fresh produce industry.
He estimated that settlements will reach $125 million to $150 million, and he speculated that many companies along the supply chain will have to get involved to settle these cases or will be drawn into court trials.
Mr. Marler said that Jensen Farms is clearly culpable, but he added that the distributor of the cantaloupes as well as retailers and the third-party auditor could all be brought into the case.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 133 persons infected with any of the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 26 states. Twenty-eight deaths have been reported. In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage. Those numbers will rise over the next weeks as additional people become sick or even die. And, of course, there will be many uncounted deaths and miscarriages that are not linked to the outbreak because there was no laboratory confirmation of the infections.
Consider the costs of 133 ill with 29 dead (including the lost fetus). Think of the medical expenses in the past and, for those who survive, the cost of future care. Some of the victims were still actively working and have lost wages and may lose more in the future. Also think of the 29 gone before their time. And, think of the suffering of the ill and of the grieving families who helplessly watched their spouses or family members suffer or die.
Yes, Jensen Farms as the grower/processor and Frontera as the wholesaler/shipper will necessarily need to be responsible for what happened. Yet so will the grocery stores that consumers relied on to not sell them cantaloupe that could kill them. And, yes, it is time for the third-party auditor to be held responsible for the audit that allowed the tainted cantaloupe to move from “farm to table.”