Wal-Mart and Kroger sued for selling listeria-contaminated cantaloupes; retailers under increasing pressure to ensure food safety

LOS ANGELES, California , November 9, 2011 () – Charles Palmer, who consumed a listeria-contaminated cantaloupe purchased at a Wal-Mart store in Colorado, has sued Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. in addition to grower Jensen Farms. Grocery store chain Dillon Companies, Inc., a subsidiary of Kroger Co., has also been targeted in a wrongful death suit filed in Colorado’s Denver County District Court, Bloomberg L. P. reported on Nov. 7.

According to the article, although retailers and grocers are not normally targeted when customers get sick after eating contaminated food, Colorado-based Jensen Farms and its distributor, Frontera Produce, Ltd. of Texas, do not carry enough liability insurance to cover the claims filed for damages caused by listeria outbreak. Bill Marler, a lawyer based in Seattle who has already filed multiple lawsuits targeting Frontera Produce, Jensen Farms and Wal-Mart, estimates that victims of listeria outbreak may ultimately file claims for more than US$100 million.

While Craig Wilson, the head of food safety at Costco Wholesale Corp., has encouraged producers to expand their own internal checks to ensure the safety of their food, Jim Prevor, an industry analyst, feels that increased testing would be both ineffectual and expensive.

Costco has implemented a “test and hold” screening program for ready-to-eat produce that stipulates that food cannot be sold until it is tested for harmful pathogens.

Wal-Mart had implemented various food-safety measures with its suppliers prior to the listeria outbreak, and removed the cantaloupes from its shelves before the Sept. 14 recall. According to Bloomberg, Walmart is currently in the process of requiring that its secondary suppliers be certified in the Global Food Safety Initiative’s prevention-based standards.

Bloomberg reports that the House Energy and Commerce Committee may hold hearings on the outbreak, and that the Committee’s investigations panel has requested to hold a briefing on the matter.

In the wake of litigation that targets grocers and distributors as well as increased scrutiny by Congress and U.S. regulators, retailers are under increasing amounts of pressure to take extra steps in order to preserve food safety. According to Nancy Donley, president of the board of directors at Chicago-based advocacy group STOP Foodborne Illness, food-safety measures implemented by major retail chains such as Costco have the potential to impact the entire fresh food retail industry.

The primary source for this article is Bloomberg, New York, New York, on Nov. 7 2011.

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