Cantaloupe auditor also criticized in U.S. criminal charges over listeria

“The Primus Labs subcontractor that conducted the pre-harvest inspection of Jensen Farms was seriously deficient in their inspection and findings.”

Which, according to Michael Booth of The Denver Post, questions the role of the third-party auditor.

That allegation was contained in the documents filed in the wake of criminal charges against the Jensen brothers for the 2011 listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak that killed 33, cantaloupe.handand was made by Dr. Jim. Gorny, who was then senior advisor to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition.

According to Booth’s reading of the records, the Jensens had a visit from a food safety auditor just before they shipped the first tainted cantaloupes, and the federal charges note the Primus Labs auditor gave them a 96 per cent “superior” rating. About the same time, the government notes, Jensen Farms made a pact with Frontera Produce to distribute the cantaloupes across the country.

Critics in the federal charges and elsewhere have said an auditor should have noticed the Jensens were using the wrong kind of equipment to wash and sort their melons. They had bought used potato harvesting equipment, and that was meant for foods that would be fully cooked, not served raw. The machines allowed the water to pool and become tainted over time, with listeria “inoculating” onto the cantaloupe as it passed by. A chlorine-based system should have been added to spray anti-bacterial water onto the cantaloupes, FDA and other critics have said (though that was not a hard and fast government rule at the time, merely a suggestion).

But what is the FDA doing about that troubled third-party system in food, where the company selling the food is paying the auditor to approve the quality of the food? Nothing visible. 

FDA said in a statement the criminal prosecution “sends the message that absolute care must be taken to FDA said after the charges were filed that deadly pathogens do not enter our food supply chain.”

Food safety is first, the responsibility of growers, and some growers are better than others.