Two brothers who owned and operated a Colorado farm found to be the source of a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak have been sentenced to five years of probation, with the first six months spent in home detention.
In addition, Eric Jensen, 37, and brother Ryan, 33, were sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay restitution totaling $150,000, or $25,000 for each of the six counts charged, to the victims of their crime for their convictions on charges of introducing adulterated food into U.S. commerce.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty handed down the sentences Tuesday in a Denver hearing.
Thirty-three people died and 140 others were hospitalized after eating cantaloupe produced by Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms that was found to be contaminated with the pathogenic Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
“The prosecution recommended probation in this case because of the defendants' unique cooperation, including their willingness to meet with Congress and their willingness to meet with and be confronted by the victims of their misconduct,” Denver-based U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado.
“They have committed to continue their cooperation, and have publicly and privately expressed sincere remorse. In short, they have done everything we have asked of them to mitigate the damage done,” Mr. Walsh said in the statement.
“We sincerely hope that today's sentencing will provide some small measure of justice to the victims of this awful tragedy. (The Food and Drug Administration) will continue to appropriately utilize its resources to ensure the integrity of our nation's food supply,” Spencer Morrison, acting special agent in charge of the Kansas City, Mo., field office of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigation, said in the statement.
The Jensens pleaded guilty in October 2013 to a six-count information filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FDA alleging that the cantaloupe “was prepared, packed and held under conditions which rendered it injurious to health.”
Court documents state that “the defendants set up and maintained a processing center where cantaloupes were taken from the field and transferred to a conveyor system for cleaning, cooling and packaging” that “should have worked in such a way that the cantaloupe would be washed with sufficient anti-bacterial solutions so that the fruit was cleaned of bacteria process.”
However, the Jensen brothers allegedly changed their cantaloupe cleaning system in May 2011 to one that was intended to be used for potatoes, which are not eaten raw, and used water instead of a chlorine spray to cleanse the fruit of bacteria, according to a January 2012 congressional report into the listeria outbreak.