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Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has released a letter it had sent to Jensen Farms
citing it for unsanitary conditions which contributed to the listeriosis
outbreak caused by listeria bacteria from Jensen Farms cantaloupes.

In early September, the
Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) traced a deadly outbreak of listeriosis back to cantaloupes
that were grown at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado, and that were contaminated
with listeria bacteria. According to CDC, 23 people have died from eating
the Jensen Farms cantaloupes, making this listeriosis outbreak the second
deadliest listeria outbreak in the history of the United States.

The outbreak has been remarkable because it involved four “widely
differing strains and two serotypes.” CDC broke the illnesses down
into for “clusters” that were based on the four different
strains it found in blood testing on the patients who had contracted listeriosis.

In the letter released yesterday, the FDA said that during its inspection
on September 10, 2011, it sampled ten cantaloupes from four pallets in
the cold storage room at Jensen Farm’s packing facility. Five of
the ten cantaloupes tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, or L.
monocytogenes, which is a dangerous bacteria that can cause listeriosis.
Four of the cantaloupes were contaminated with Cluster #2, and another
contaminated with Cluster #4.

The FDA also ran 39 swabs over surfaces in the facility, and tests showed
13 of the swwabs were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Eleven
of the swabs matched Cluster # 2, one matched Cluster #3, and one matched
cluster #4.

The FDA told Jensen Farms, “these cantaloupes from your facility
are adulterated within the meaning of Section 402(a)(1) of the Act [21
U.S.C. § 342(a)(1)] in that they bear or contain a poisonous or deleterious
substance that may render them injurious to health.”

The FDA gave Jensen Farms fifteen working days to notify the FDA in writing
of the steps Jensen Farms has taken to correct the violations and how
it would prevent them from happening again.

The FDA warned Jensen Farms that it would take “corrective action”
if Jensen Farms did not “promptly correct these violations.”
The FDA said it could seize Jensen Farm’s products or enjoin Jensen
Farms from operating.

The FDA referred Jensen Farms to its publication, Draft Guidance for Industry,
Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Melons. In that guidance,
the FDA recommends that growers and packers use “packing equipment
designed to facilitate cleaning and sanitation of melon contact surfaces
and constructed of materials that may be easily cleaned and sanitized’;
validate and verify “that melon wetting and brushing operations
are not a potential source of melon contamination or cross-contamination”;
and cool and store melons in a cold storage location “as soon as
possible after harvest because delays in cooling when melons with netted
rinds (such as cantaloupe) are wet from washing operations may allow for
multiplication of human pathogens on the rind surface.”

This letter suggests some appallingly poor sanitation occurred at Jensen
Farms. I am a
personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, and I have been particularly interested in listeria
lawsuits since 1998, when a client approached me because he had become
very ill after eating Sara Lee hot dogs contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes,
also known as the listeria bacteria. In that case, the
United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) cited Sara Lee’s Bil Mar facility for horrifying
health and sanitation violations which led up to the
Sara Lee hot dog recall, just as the FDA has done here with Jensen Farms.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.