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Deadly listeria outbreak: Colorado farmers enter plea deal

By Kevin Wang, CNN
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
Each year one out of every six Americans is sickened by a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some of the biggest foodborne illness outbreaks since 2001. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/24/health/gallery/food-safety-tips/index.html'>Click here</a> for tips on how to keep your food safe. Each year one out of every six Americans is sickened by a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some of the biggest foodborne illness outbreaks since 2001. Click here for tips on how to keep your food safe.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers enter a plea deal in deadly 2011 listeria outbreak
  • The outbreak resulted in 33 deaths and many more illnesses
  • One defendant's attorney confirms the deal, but would not give details

(CNN) -- Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers could soon plead guilty to federal charges in the case of a 2011 listeria outbreak that resulted in 33 deaths and many more illnesses.

Eric and Ryan Jensen, of Holly, who are accused of introducing adulterated food into the food supply, have entered plea deals with federal prosecutors, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Denver through their attorneys.

The agreements mean the Jensen brothers could plead guilty to six criminal counts in exchange for lesser charges. They previously pleaded not guilty to all charges, which each carry a fine of $250,000 and up to one year in prison.

Cause of listeria in cantaloupe discovered

Specifics of the plea would remain unknown until announced at a public hearing, the date of which is still being decided by a judge. Ryan Jensen's attorney, Richard Banta, said they reached an agreement with prosecutors "in principle," but declined to elaborate.

Eric Jensen's attorney didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Cantaloupes were considered the cause of the outbreak.
Cantaloupes were considered the cause of the outbreak.

The outbreak in September 2011 triggered a miscarriage in one woman and sickened more than 115 others. It was the deadliest outbreak of food borne illness in more than a quarter-century, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is Listeria?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also cited the farm's "serious design flaws" and a "lack of awareness" of safety standards as possible sources of the bacterial contamination.

Also at issue were accusations the company that inspected the Jensen brothers' farm ignored federal regulators' "best and most timely" advice on processing produce, as a congressional report found.

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