Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have laid criticisms against multiple parties in the aftermath of the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in U.S. history in 2011.  In a report issued today, the Committee directs blame at the grower of the cantaloupe, Jensen Farms, distributor Frontera Produce, as well as third-party auditors, Primus and Bio-Food Safety. 

011012listeriastaffreport.jpgThe outbreak of listeria linked to cantaloupe grown and distributed by Jensen Farms and Frontera Produce sickened 146 people in 28 states, including 30 deaths.  Marler Clark has filed 10 lawsuits on behalf of people sickened in the outbreak, including the families of people who died.

A press release announcing the report on behalf of Chairman Fred Upton, Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman, Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, Ranking Member Diana DeGette, Subcommittee Chairman Joseph R. Pitts, Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., and Rep. John D. Dingell stated:

The recent outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes was the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in over twenty-five years. The committee launched this investigation to provide helpful information to the FDA, growers, distributors, and other authorities in their efforts to improve the safety of our nation’s food supply. The committee will continue to monitor upcoming examinations of the Listeria outbreak and related proposals to help prevent another such tragedy.  A Congressional committee investigating deaths from the Colorado cantaloupe listeria outbreak points fingers at Jensen Farms, third-party auditors, and lax FDA regulations on sanitation.

Committee staff took testimony from representatives of Jensen Farms, Frontera Produce, third-party auditors Primus and Bio-Food Safety, and the FDA.  FDA representatives told the staff that “the outbreak would have likely been prevented if Jensen Farms had maintained its facilities in accordance with existing FDA guidance.”

Elaborating on that point, the report is critical of Jensen for “the failure to use an anti-microbial wash” as would have been consistent with FDA guidance.  This failure was reported as the “probable cause of the contamination.”

Also according to the report, President of auditor Primus, Robert Stovicek, stated that Primus did not have the “expertise to determine which best practices should be pushed by the industry.”