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Criminal Investigation into Cantaloupe Producers Responsible for Deadly Listeria Outbreak

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Last year, an outbreak of Listeria bacteria in cantaloupe directly killed 33, indirectly killed 10, and sickened another 147 in 28 states. Now, Jensen Farms, the U.S. cantaloupe processor linked to the outbreak, is under criminal investigation by the federal government.

A congressional investigation found the outbreak might have been avoided if Granada, Colo.-based Jensen had followed U.S. food-safety guidelines. The company has filed for bankruptcy since the incident.

"The investigators were here three weeks ago and we turned over all the files on death cases to them," Marler, a Seattle- based lawyer who represents 42 victims of the outbreak, told Businessweek. "It's an ongoing investigation." –LA Weekly

Putting tainted food into the marketplace is a violation of the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, punishable by up to three years of prison time.

A trust is being created for victims of the outbreak; it currently stands at $5 million but could increase to as much as $20 million.

The money includes funds from Jensen Farms, Pepper Equipment Corp. of Colorado, which sold equipment to Jensen, and Rio Hondo, Texas-based BioFood Safety Inc., a subcontractor hired to do a third-party audit, which helps assure food safety, of the operation. -Businessweek

Several lawsuits are also pending against retailers like Wal-Mart that sold the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe. Hopefully these lawsuits will help send the message that Americans will not tolerate a food distribution system that doesn’t protect people from bacterial contamination. It’s absolutely outrageous that Americans in the 21st century can die from eating a cantaloupe.