APFamily members walk with Ryan Jensen (second from left) and Eric Jensen (far right) following a court appearance in Denver’s Federal Court on Oct. 22, 2013.(UPDATED COVERAGE Jan. 31) As two Colorado cantaloupe growers begin probation for a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak, federal officials say they will move forward with new food safety rules and use their full power to enforce them.
Eric and Ryan Jensen, owners of Jensen Farms, Granada Colo., were the first growers to face this kind of criminal foodborne pathogen case. They each pleaded guilty in 2013 to six federal misdemeanors of introducing adulterated food into the supply chain.
A federal magistrate in Denver sentenced them Jan. 28 to each serve six months home detention and five years probation.
Other growers could face similar situations, based on a comment from Spencer Morrison, the Food and Drug Administration’s acting special agent in charge of the agency’s criminal investigation. Spencer assisted the U.S. Justice Department with its case against the Jensens.
The FDA will continue to use its powers to ensure food safety regulations and laws are followed, Morrison said in a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Denver office after the Jensens’ sentencing.
The agency continues to stress prevention as its weapon of choice, however.
“At FDA our goal is to continue to move forward on the ... rules, so that we can work with farmers and industry to prevent tragic outbreaks like this from happening in the first place,” said Doug Karas, public affairs specialist with FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network.
In addition to their home detention and probation, the Jensens must each pay $150,000 in restitution to the victims of the listeria outbreak — $25,000 for each of the six counts. They argued against paying restitution because they may be found liable for damages in civil cases filed by victims.
The 2011 outbreak killed as many as 40 people and sickened almost 150 others in 28 states, according to the assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena, who prosecuted the case.
The Jensens could have each faced up to six years in prison and each been fined $1.5 million.
“No fine is imposed because the defendants have no ability to pay a fine,” according to the sentencing order from Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty.
As a special condition, Ryan Jensen agreed to attend a substance abuse program and take drug tests. The judge waived drug testing for Eric Jensen because the presentence report “indicates a low risk of future substance abuse” for him. Both brothers agreed to provide a DNA sample. The brothers also must complete 100 hours of community service.