Food Poisoning Settlements Reached in Most Death Lawsuits Over Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak

Agreements have reportedly been reached to settle more than 50 lawsuits brought over food poisoning associated with a 2001 listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupe. 

While terms of the food poisoning settlements were not released, an Associated Press report suggests that the agreement resolves most of the wrongful death lawsuits stemming from the cantaloupe listeria contamination, which has been linked to at least 33 deaths and more than 140 other reports of illness.

The listeria outbreak was one of the deadliest food poisoning outbreaks in U.S. history, stemming from Rocky Ford cantaloupes grown and distributed by Jansen Farms in 2011. The listeria outbreak resulted in a cantaloupe recall, and eventually helped spur tighter food safety regulations.

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Plaintiffs sued not only Jensen Farms, but also various distributors and sellers as well, including Frontera Produce, Walmart, and Bio Food Safety, which inspected Jensen Farms and gave it a clean bill of health before the outbreak.

Jensen Farms’ owners, the brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen, pled guilty to criminal charges stemming from the outbreak, including misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. They were given five years probation, and also ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.

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.


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