The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s report on the 2011 Listeria outbreak that was traced to cantaloupes grown and processed at Jensen Farms in Colorado has identified a number of problems that led to the “deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in over 25 years.”

The bipartisan investigation found that a third-party auditing company (i)
gave the farm high food-safety marks despite identifying major and minor
deficiencies, (ii) did not hold the farm to anything other than baseline industry
standards, and (iii) had no procedures in place to require corrective actions.

One of the problems that led to the outbreak was the farm’s failure to use an
anti-microbial solution in the cantaloupe wash water. Jensen Farms apparently
stopped using the solution after consulting with the third-party auditing
company in 2010 about ways to enhance its food-safety efforts. In 2011, the
farm had adopted an alternative to the hydrocooler it previously used to
process cantaloupe; on the auditing company’s recommendation, it used new
food processing equipment without an anti-microbial wash, consisting of
retrofitted equipment that had been used to process potatoes.

Another problem highlighted in the report was the farm’s failure to comply with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance. According to the report, the auditing company was and is concerned only with FDA regulations. In the words of the auditing company’s president, “we are not supposed to be opinionated on this, we are supposed to go by FDA’s regulations . . . FDA should have mandated that you cannot sell cantaloupes that have not been sanitized.” While his company noted that no anti-microbial solution was used in the wash water, no points were deducted from the Jensen Farms’ 2011 audit for this omission. The report observed that the Food Safety Modernization Act requires that FDA establish an accreditation system and model auditing standards for third-party audits. The committee will monitor those efforts.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.