Jensen Farms - the cantaloupe grower pinpointed as the source of last year’s deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreak – has filed for bankruptcy in the US.
The Colorado-based firm filed a Chapter 11 notice with the US District Bankruptcy Court in Colorado, citing a long list of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits relating to its Listeria-tainted Rocky Ford brand whole cantaloupes.
A total of 146 people across 28 states were infected with the any of the outbreak-associated strains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Of these, 30 died and several more deaths have been unofficially attributed to the outbreak.
The outbreak is now officially recognised as the worst foodborne disease outbreak in modern US history.
The bankruptcy filing, which was signed by Jensen Farms’ president Eric Jensen, listed revenue of $4.8m for the year ending May 2012.
It also recorded the company’s total assets at a value of $2.1m and outstanding payments of $1.6m from Frontera Produce, which distributed the tainted product.
According to reports from the US, the bankruptcy filing was designed to free up millions of dollars in funds to meet the demands of the 19 lawsuits that have so far been filed against Jensen Farms in relation to the outbreak.
The lawsuits, which were filed by survivors and the relatives of those killed by the tainted products, cover several US states including Colorado, Illinois, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska.
Frontera Produce and third party auditor Bio Food Safety are both facing a number of lawsuits in relation to their part in the outbreak.
Third party auditors
The outbreak, which officially ended in December 2011, first linked Jensen Farms cantaloupes to the outbreak in September 2011 after a collaborative investigation involving local, state and federal public health agencies.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later confirmed Jensen Farms as the source of the outbreak after discovering Listeria monocytogenes bacteria on cantaloupes and equipment at one of the firm’s facilties
Third party auditors Bio Food Safety was also handed part of the blame after it emerged that Jensen Farms had been given food safety grades of 95% and 96% despite several deficiencies.
A Congressional report found that a 2011 audit conducted by the third party auditor failed to penalise Jensen Farms for not using an antimicrobial solution, such as chlorine, in its cantaloupe washing process.