Jensen Farms – the Colorado company whose cantaloupes were linked to last year’s Listeria outbreak that sickened 146 people and killed 36 – has indicated that it is likely to settle cases brought against it by 39 victims and their families. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, the grower says it is likely to opt for settlements with the 39 plaintiffs – represented by food safety attorney Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News – once its assets are freed up. “I would say we are very close,” said Jim Markus, an attorney for Jensens, according to the Denver Post. The company is offering victims $4 million in settlement money,  half of which would come from its insurance policy. The remaining $2 million would come the insurers of the equipment company that allegedly supplied Jensen with used equipment and Primus labs, the safety auditor who allegedly failed to discover contamination problems at the facility that likely led to the outbreak. “My goal is to make those responsible for the largest food borne death toll in 100 years be legally and morally responsible for a fair resolution of my clients claims,” said Marler in a statement to Food Safety News. The Listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farms’ cantaloupes officially lasted from July 31 of last year, when onset of the first reported illness was recorded, until October. But in the months that followed, two more victims died of complications from Listeria infections tied to the outbreak.

  • What is the legal theory upon which food producers should conduct their business model: Adherence to established food production standards, avoiding negligence or strict liability where food borne pathogens are concerned?
    This issue is particularly relevant to Jensen Farms as a defendant and all food producers in general. If Jensen Farms complied with all known industry and governmental standards in their conducting of their operations and an outbreak resulted, shouldn’t those standards protect them from liability?
    On the other hand if all food producers are held to a strict liability standard when food borne pathogens harm or injure people, then all food producers should be advised to modify their business operations to meet an aseptic minimums in their finished product prior to introduction into the market. Only the total absence of harmful bacterial pathogens or adulterants would meet this later standard.
    If the later is the case, then this ultimate liability standard should underpin every management decision from seed to shipment. Perhaps the Food Safety Officer job description should include education, training and testing in the specialized area of food safety litigation and financial liability in addition to microbiological subspeciation and pathogen source tracking. With those additional skills, food producers would be better prepared for the potential challenges of the ultimate cost of doing business.