The government prosecutors handling the case against brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen, the former owners of a cantaloupe farm tied to one of the deadliest foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history, have recommended sentences of five years probation. The maximum sentence for each of the six counts would have been a year in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
Back in October the brothers pleaded guilty to six counts of Introducing an Adulterated Food into Interstate Commerce, an act that resulted in a Listeria outbreak that caused more than 30 deaths and 147 illnesses after consumers across the country consumed contaminated cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms.
The prosecution’s court sentencing recommendations last week said that a probationary sentence of five years reflects the seriousness of the offense, promotes respect for the law and provides a just punishment for the offense.
“Without a doubt, any offense that results in 33-40 deaths is a serious offense which must be given careful consideration by a sentencing court,” the prosecutors said. “However, the seriousness of the offense is tempered in this case by the lack of a willful, intentional or knowing state of mind.”
The prosecution also stated that due to the rarity of criminal charges in foodborne illness outbreaks, they encouraged the court to weigh the devastating results of the Jensens’ actions alongside their efforts to prevent further illnesses by issuing recalls as soon as they learned their fruit was contaminated. The prosecutors also commended the Jensens’ willingness to meet with several victims and their families in an effort to provide closure.
A sentence of five years probation would be sufficient to help deter other growers from ignoring their food safety responsibilities, the prosecutors argued, saying that food producers are already recognizing that flouting safety standards could expose them to criminal liability.
“A sentence to an extensive period of Court supervision will only amplify the message of deterrence to the food industry,” the prosecutors said.
A federal judge will make a sentence on Jan. 28. To read more, click HERE.