Exclusive: Jensen Farms React To Lawsuit, Recall

Charles Palmer Still Hospitalized After Eating Cantaloupe, Attorney Says

The farmers of Jensen Farms talked exclusively to 7NEWS after a man sickened with listeria filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming that a Jensen Farms cantaloupe caused his debilitating illness.

"We're deeply saddened that there's a possibility that our family's cantaloupe could have gotten somebody sick," Jensen Farms owner Eric Jensen told 7NEWS Thursday. "Our first priority is the public's health and safety."

Jensen's fourth-generation family farm in Holly, normally busy with harvest now, was ghostly quiet after the suspected listeria contamination forced Jensen to shut down Monday and destroy his cantaloupe crops.

The grower launched a voluntary nationwide recall on Wednesday.

Jensen said the farm had never faced a public health crisis and he'd never heard of listeria contaminating cantaloupe.

"We're still in shock," Jensen said, choking with emotion. "We're completely focused on our recall efforts right now."

Jensen said he had no clue about the source of the contamination, adding that it could still be found "on the retail end."

While a terrible setback, Jensen said that the listeria outbreak wouldn't claim his farm.

"We'll definitely be back," Jensen vowed.

Palmer Family Files Suit

Charles and Tammie Palmer said they bought a cantaloupe at a WalMart in Colorado Springs on Aug. 17, but Charles didn't eat it until Aug. 19.

"It was juicy and really good. He ate the whole thing, in one sitting. He had a little stomach ache, but that was from overeating in one sitting," Tammie Palmer said.

The 71-year-old Colorado Springs man quickly recovered from the stomach ache but 11 days later, he couldn't get out of bed because he had a massive headache, his wife said.

On Aug. 31, Charles Palmer became non-responsive and was hospitalized.

"He (coughed) and I said, 'Are you OK?' And his eyes started to roll in the back of his head ... He couldn't talk or anything so that's when I called 911," Tammie said.

She didn't realize that her husband would be in the hospital for weeks.

"He'd been on four real strong antibiotics. I thought after two days he would make some kind of improvement," Tammie said. "I just can't believe a cantaloupe could make you that sick. Deathly ill. Deathly ill. It's really scary. I hear about going to a restaurant, getting food poisoning, you get that out of your system. This has been over two weeks."

Charles at first couldn't talk and couldn't move, but is slowly improving and is now semi-lucid, Tammie said.

"It's horrible, it's scary. I don't think he'll ever be able to drive again because of the confusion," Tammie said. "It's hard to see him in bed, not doing anything."

At first, the family didn't know what was happening to him. Then doctors told her his illness came from food.

"The doctors told me it was listeria. The health department told me that it was the cantaloupe," Tammie said.

She said Charles, a retired master sergeant in the Marines, was healthy and active, but now, even when he is released from the hospital, will need to be in a wheelchair and given long-term care.

The Palmer's attorney, Bill Marler, said the cantaloupe Palmer ate was from Jensen Farms.

Tammie said with the lawsuit, she wants "people to realize that you can't trust some of these places where we purchase our food."

"I think there should be some kind of precaution ... that food is tested before it's put out on shelves for people to purchase," she said.

"It's scary. You have to be so careful. I'm scared to go grocery shopping anymore. I don't know, what do you buy? The health department contacted me and (initially) said it could be a variety of things: deli meats, cheeses, hot dogs, melons, just a variety. So you go to the store and you're like, 'I don't want buy this. I don't want to buy that.' What do you buy so you can be safe?" Tammie said.

"You don’t know what to trust, what to buy. I just can't believe it. I'm still in shock," she said.

The lawsuit, filed in El Paso County, names Jensen Farms and Walmart as defendants.

Jensen Farms Cantaloupe Tested Positive For Listeria

A company spokeswoman confirmed that one of the Jensen Farms cantaloupes, sampled from a store, tested positive for listeria.

The cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 and distributed throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Recall Details

Several Colorado grocery stores have removed cantaloupe from shelves, though there has been no official recall.

Jensen Farms is the first and only farm to have voluntarily recalled its cantaloupe.

The whole cantaloupes have a green and white sticker that reads "Product of USA- Frontera Produce-Colorado Fresh-Rocky Ford-Cantaloupe" or a gray, yellow, and green sticker that reads "Jensen Farms-Sweet Rocky Fords."

The recall covers all Jensen Farms cantaloupe shipments shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10. During this period, the company shipped a total of just over 300,000 cases.

Officials said because they do not know when or where the potential contamination occurred, the company recalled the entire harvest. Officials still do not know how or where the contamination may have occurred within the supply chain.

Jensen Farms is requesting anyone who may have one of these cantaloupes to toss out the melons.

Company spokeswoman Amy Philpott made a number of points regarding the recall:

  • The company is run by two brothers who are quite upset that anyone might be getting sick from their cantaloupe. They stopped production on Monday when the State of Colorado issued a general listeria alert for the melons from their region.
  • On Monday afternoon, Jensen began working with their marketing company to get customers to pull the melons off the shelves.
  • They don't know how many melons are being recalled.
  • Jensen produces about 40 percent of the cantaloupes from this region.
  • This is very unusual. Listeria is typically associated with processing. However, this outbreak involves whole melons.
  • State investigators have been on the farm, swabbing harvest equipment and packing equipment.
  • Jensen also grows wheat, pumpkin, alfalfa and corn.
  • "This company is really, really emotionally impacted by this and they wanted to do the right thing … being proactive," Philpott said.

    Cantaloupe Questions

    Consumers with questions may contact Jensen Farms via email at recall@rfordcantaloupe.com or by calling 1-800-267-4561 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. MST.

    Cantaloupes from Colorado have been linked to two deaths and 16 cases of listeria. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention said one person died in Colorado and one in New Mexico.

    New Mexico has blamed three deaths on the outbreak, but epidemiologist Chad Smelser said Thursday that one death has been confirmed and the other two are pending results from the CDC.

    The listeria cases were reported in several states: Colorado, Texas, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Montana. Health officials say most of those sickened consumed whole cantaloupes, most likely marketed from Rocky Ford in Colorado.

    Listeria Symptoms

    L. monocytogenes is a bacterium that can contaminate foods and cause a mild non-invasive illness (called listerial gastroenteritis) or a severe, sometimes life-threatening, illness (called invasive listeriosis).

    Listeriosis is a rare and serious illness that mostly affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and those with compromised immune systems.

    A person who comes down with it usually experiences fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and confusion. The infection almost always spreads to the gastrointestinal tract, and it can cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women, according to health officials.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of the multi-state outbreak that health officials believe originated from the popular Rocky Ford cantaloupes, which are produced in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado.

    The CDC said about 800 cases of listeria are diagnosed in the United States each year and there are three or four outbreaks of it a year. Deli meats, hot dogs and cheese are the most frequent carriers, and outbreaks in produce are rare. Sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, however, and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.

    This is the first listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the United States.

    Cantaloupe is often a culprit in foodborne illness outbreaks, but not listeriosis. Earlier this year, state and federal authorities linked 22 salmonella illnesses, many of them in the West, to cantaloupes imported from Mexico.

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