Listeria contaminated cantaloupes killed at least 31 people from August through December. This staggering number may prove to be the biggest boon to the safety of fresh produce since Dole’s spinach killed 5 people in 2006. Or maybe its just the lawsuits. There have been 10 so far, many of them wrongful death:
- The death of Marie Jones (Texas)
- The death of Paul Schwarz (Missouri)
- The death of Florence Wilcox (New Mexico)
- The death of Clarence Wells (Maryland)
- The death of William Beach (Oklahoma)
- The illness of Juanita Gomez
- The illness of Doyle Underwood
- The illness of Herb Stevens
- The illness of Charles Palmer
Add to this list a complaint recently filed in Bernalillo County District Court (#D-202-CV-2011-12566) on behalf of 63-year old Rene Gaxiola, who consumed cantaloupe that was produced by Jensen Farms in the weeks leading up to his illness. On September 7, 2011, Mr. Gaxiola began experiencing symptoms of Listeria illness such as fever, chills, cramps, and diarrhea. The same day his condition worsened rapidly and his wife Susanna took him to Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque, where he became disoriented, unable to communicate, and his temperature rose to over 106 degrees. Over the next three days Mr. Gaxiola’s condition continued to deteriorate and he died in the hospital on September 10. The lawsuit states that blood samples tested positive for a strain of Listeria associated with a multistate cantaloupe outbreak.
The lawsuit also names distributor Frontera Produce as well as food safety auditors Primus Labs and Bio Food Safety as defendants. According to news reports, just days before the outbreak the auditors gave Jensen Farms a 96% score on the farm’s facilities audit. However, on October 19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a contradictory report of its own, detailing unsanitary conditions and rampant Listeria contamination inside the Jensen Farms packing facility.