Jensen Farms Sues Auditor PrimusLabs

October 21, 2013

By Riëtte van Laack

Jensen Farms, (the Jensens), the growers facing criminal charges related to the deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to their cantaloupes, are suing Primus Group, Inc. d/b/a/ Primus Labs (Primus) alleging that the food safety consultants who audited the Jensens’ facilities shortly before the deadly outbreak occurred, gave the Jensens bad advice.  A copy of the Complaint is available here

According to the Jensens, Primus held itself out as an expert in the field of food safety, including the analysis and assessment of food safety procedures and other standards applicable to the production of agricultural products.  The Jensens claim that Primus’s subcontracted auditor (Bio Food Safety) gave them bad advice.  The Jensens claim they thought they were making their system safer by substituting a bacteria-killing chlorine pool with a one-pass system using clean water to wash melons.  The complaint states that, in a 2010 audit by Bio Food Safety, this chlorine pool has been identified as a “hotspot” for contamination.  During the 2011 audit, the Jensens allegedly specifically pointed out the substitution and associated changes in the company’s procedures system between 2010 and 2011.  The Jensens claim that the 2011 auditor noted the changes in his report.  This auditor, however, allegedly did not question these changes or alert the Jensens about the risk of contamination.  Instead, the auditor allegedly issued a rating of superior (96 out of 100 points) even though the Jensens (as they know now) violated Primus’s own audit standards applicable to cantaloupe packing houses, industry standards, and relevant FDA industry guidance.  Citing James R. Gorny, FDA’s senior advisor for produce, they claim that the audit was seriously deficient. 

The Jensens charge Primus with negligence, breach of contract and unfair and deceptive trade practices and the resulting (irreparable) destruction of the Jensens’ relationships with its buyers, the demise of the business, and massive civil litigation and criminal charges that have been brought against the Jensens.

As we previously reported, the Jensens are charged with six federal misdemeanor charges for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce and criminal aiding and abetting.  Last week, they filed a request for a hearing on a change to the earlier pleas, indicating that they will be pleading guilty.