From the beginning, the deadly Colorado cantaloupe listeria outbreak was tragic.
As the case unfolded over the past two and a half years and we all got more details, it remained a sad case, but not really one that elicited much anger.
We have to conclude it was an accident, a terrible accident.
Some closure came in late January when growers Eric and Ryan Jensen of Jensen Farms were sentenced to six months of home detention, five years of probation and $150,000 each in restitution, after pleading guilty to six federal misdemeanors of introducing adulterated food into the supply chain.
As the facts became more clear, it also became evident that jail time was not appropriate.
The threat of jail time for growers who unknowingly ship contaminated product is too strict and may force growers out of the business because the risk is too high.
Willful negligence, known adulteration of product or non-cooperation during a recall are different issues, and jail time could be appropriate in those cases, but it wasn’t with the Jensens.
People died from eating cantaloupe, and the growers paid a heavy price.
The outbreak did spur action on food safety.
Among the responses are national and regional guidelines for cantaloupe shipping and handling, and unprecedented government and industry cooperation during the Food Safety Modernization Act rule making.
The fresh produce industry has to use tragedies like these to make the process and the system better and safer, and then communicate that to consumers.
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