The U.S. government has been getting out of the food-inspection game in recent decades, replaced by a for-profit inspection industry that’s rife with conflicts of interest. The risks of that arrangement became evident with America’s deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in almost a century.
In 2010, Primus Group food auditors visited a Colorado melon farm run by brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen. The company told the farming brothers how to install a new cooling system. In 2011, the inspectors returned and gave the flawed new system, which violated federal guidelines, a “superior” safety report.
Within a year, 33 cantaloupe consumers had died painful deaths after being infected with Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that was harbored by the brothers’ fruit. Federal investigators concluded that the installation of the new cooling system was a fatal flaw.
After four generations, the brothers’ farm has been sunk by lawsuits filed by victims and their families. Now the Jensens are striking back against the flawed inspection system with a lawsuit of their own. The Denver Post reports:
The lawsuit filed against Primus Group, a food auditing company based in California, is rare — even in an industry in which favorable audits have preceded the most notorious national food outbreaks.
It’s the second time in a month the listeria cantaloupe case has set a precedent in the food safety industry. In September, the Jensen brothers were charged with federal misdemeanors for introducing adulterated food into the market — the first time in two decades food producers were charged with misdemeanor, unintentional acts.
The Jensens are expected to plead guilty in federal court in Denver on Tuesday.
“It sent a pretty big ripple effect in the food industry,” said food safety attorney Bill Marler of Seattle, who is representing dozens of victims in lawsuits against the Jensen brothers. “It’s certainly gotten people’s attention.”
Let’s hope it gets the attention of federal lawmakers and the Obama administration.