Last week the Denver Post reported that Jensen Farms, source of last fall’s cantaloupe outbreak, declared bankruptcy. Today, the Washington Post reports that litigants in the case are close to a civil settlement for a group of 40 plaintiffs.
Strict liability is a common theme around this blog. I beat that drum so much because very few farmers and almost no food entrepreneurs are aware of its implications. Though terribly unfortunate for the victims of the outbreak and the Jensen family, the one-year arc of the Jensen Farms story is a lucid cautionary tale of how a straightforward legal doctrine can explode a once-thriving food business.
Key quote from Bill Marler, founding partner of Marler Clark LLP and rabid food safety advocate:
“There’s frankly plenty of responsibility to go around,” he said. “The chain of distribution from the farm to the retailer bears responsibility for producing and selling that food.”
How right he is. Strict liability means that if anyone puts a defective food product into the stream of commerce, he or she is liable for the consequences. If you are a farmer, you have an absolute duty to produce safe food. If you are a food processor, get the best HACCP you can and never deviate from it. If you are a retailer, even you have the obligation to do some due diligence on your suppliers and make sure they are producing food safely. Strict liability will humble you all.