Lessons from Jensens

01/31/2014 11:17:00 AM
The Packer Editorial Board

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.

Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.



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Levi    
USA  |  February, 03, 2014 at 04:06 PM

This will be regarded as a turning point in history for domestic produce production. Apparently the FDA has decided that only zero risk produce is acceptable. The operation was following the FDA published recommendations for a non-recirculating wash system {Seriously! read the FDA's own Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables} and yet were subsequently charged with a Federal crime. What's the average age of a farmer in the US? These two men were among the increasingly few young farmers. How many young farmers will want to replace the aging farm community when you can be held legally responsible even when no one contends that you actually failed to take proper actions or precautions? The FDA should pursue the true bad actors; those who fail to implement proper procedures or who take no proactive responsibility to prevent contamination. The reality is that food borne illness happens not because there was a failure, but simply because that is the nature of produce. Zero risk produce is not possible. Even irradiated produce can be inoculated by Susie housewife picking through the stack of produce at the retail store. Go to the produce section and watch how many produce items are handled and replaced by consumers as they make their selections. Accept the fact that in the US our food system is amazingly safe and stop persecuting the producers who aren't doing anything wrong.

Enola    
USA  |  February, 05, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Very well put, thank you for your comment Levi. Lets hope Susie housewife washed her hands properly (20 seconds with soap) before she puts them all over every avocado, tomato, apple... on display.

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