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Contaminated cantaloupe lead to criminal charges

Cases involving food contamination are rarely prosecuted by the criminal justice system. Typically, a great deal of the "enforcement" of the food safety laws is done by private attorneys working for people who were injured by the food borne illness that was a result of  the food contamination.

In some cases of product liability, the recklessness and negligence is so great that a case  will be filed carrying criminal penalties by prosecutors. In Colorado this week, criminal charges were filed against the brothers who owned and operated a large cantaloupe farm that distributed listeria-contaminated fruit that killed 33 people across the country and left hundreds ill.

The U.S. Attorney charged them with six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated foods into the food supply. The penalties, if they are convicted could be up to a year in prison and $250,000 fine for each charge.

While their attorney argued they had cooperated with the investigation, the misdemeanor charges do not require they knew they were shipping contaminated cantaloupes. The prosecutors noted the importance of food distributers working to maintain the safety and the integrity of the food supply.

The farm apparently used equipment that allowed dirty water to pool, which then contaminated the cantaloupes with listeria. Food safety advocates applauded the prosecution, as some businesses may see court cases and civil damages as merely a price of doing business.

Safety standards have to be increased as more and more food is produced by large industrial food processors and distributed nationwide. As this case demonstrates, broad distribution places thousands of consumers at risk when food is contaminated and current surveillance systems are inadequate to protect consumers.

Source: The Denver Post, "Colorado cantaloupe farmers charged by federal officials in fatal listeria outbreak," Michael Booth And Jennifer Brown, September 26, 2013

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