Cantaloupe Wrongful Death Lawsuit Targets Grower, Private Inspectors

The family of a Missouri man who died from Listeria food poisoning in 2011, has filed a lawsuit alleging that his death was caused by contaminated cantaloupe, pursuing the case against the growers and distributors.  

William Pumphrey, 84, was one of 33 people believed to have died from a listeria outbreak that surfaced in late 2011, which was eventually traced back to Rocky Ford cantaloupe from Jensen Farms.

On August 15, Pumphrey’s wife and children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against not only Jensen Farms, but also against Dillons, the grocery store that sold him the allegedly tainted fruit; Frontera Produce, the distributor; and Bio Food Safety, which inspected Jensen Farms and gave it a clean bill of health before the outbreak.

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Pumphrey was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He bought the cantaloupes that allegedly made him ill in August 2011. He was sick by September 7 and died after 17 days of illness.

Several days after Pumphrey fell ill, Jensen Farms issued a cantaloupe recall amid a growing number of illnesses involving the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes was linked back to cantaloupes grown in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.

Eventually, the food poisoning outbreak was determined to be one of the deadliest in U.S. history, and the most deadly since 1924. It claimed at least 33 lives and was the cause of at least 147 illnesses.

While one of the rarer forms of food poisoning, listeria is one of the more dangerous. It frequently results in hospitalization and about a quarter of those who contract the illness die from the infection.

Listeria illnesses pose a particular risk for children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. For pregnant women, illness from Listeria bacteria can cause miscarriages and still births.

Blood tests are usually required to diagnose listeria infection, which can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of listeria poisoning include muscle aches, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, severe headaches and fever. If the bacteria spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and nervous system, it could cause meningitis and other complications.

Recently concerns about listeria contaminated cantaloupes resulted in another recall, after routine sampling of Athena cantaloup distributed by a small, independent grocer in Michigan were found to be tainted with Listeria monocytogenes.

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