Opinion: Growers Must Be On The Cutting Edge Of Food Safety

Rosemary GordonLike you, I felt ill when I learned that the Jensen brothers were to be charged criminally with misdemeanors. Like you, I know that these growers — like all growers — certainly never wanted anyone to become sick from eating their fresh produce.

It happened, though. Cantaloupe tainted with Listeria entered the marketplace from Colorado-based Jensen Farms in 2011. Later that year FDA determined that it was the Jensens’ cantaloupe that caused more than 140 people to get sick and 33 people to die.

While attending the United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference in October, which took place the week after the news about the Jensens broke, I had an opportunity to ask some of the attendees their thoughts on the matter. Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, said: “It raises awareness in the industry on what federal prosecutors can do under FDA law.”

To date, however, there have been not been many criminal charges involving contaminated food. In fact, food safety lawyer Bill Marler told me he has seen very few prosecutions in the last 20 years, but in the Jensens’ case, 33 people died and that simply could not be ignored by the U.S. Attorneys office.

Should all of the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the grower? Marler said the entire chain has some culpability.

He is right. More than the Jensen brothers were involved, and no matter how you feel about the criminal charges being brought against them in the first place and the dangerous precendent being set as a result, the responsibility should be shared. (Meister’s Content Director Jim Sulecki offers his take on the situation at http://bit.ly/19afhm4.)

The “sharing” may be coming as the Jensens now plan to sue the auditor involved. In the end, though, none of this will help growers in their efforts to be on the cutting edge of food safety, which is where they need to be.

As the fallout from the Jensen case has been extensively covered on our website, GrowingProduce.com, many comments have been made, with one saying the result “will be the demise of all fruit and vegetable farming.” That’s the last thing that should happen.

Our goal is to keep you informed on what is transpiring surrounding this case — and what it means for you — as well as provide you with the information you need to move forward in the area of food safety. American Vegetable Grower and sister publications, American Fruit Grower and Florida Grower want to make it very clear when a food safety topic is the focus of an article in a magazine, online, or in one of our eNewsletters. The new Food Safety icon, shown above, is designed to do just that. You will know at a glance what topic the article is discussing.

After all, the world needs you to continue providing nutritious produce. Our health depends on it.

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