Listeria outbreak caused by cheese

A cheese product has been recognised as the cause of spreading listeria across eleven US states and has been associated with the demise of one person.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 14 people were infected – due to the imported Ricotta Salata Cheese – in its joint investigation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and public health and regulatory officials in several states.

Three deaths have occurred yet; one each in Minnesota, Nebraska and New York and Maryland reported the highest number of ill people, with three.

A statement from the CDC said: “Twelve (86%) of 14 ill persons interviewed reported consuming a soft cheese. All six ill persons who could provide information about packaging of cheeses reported consuming cheese that had been cut and repackaged at a retail location”.

Listeriosis contributed to at least one of the deaths in Nebraska and New York, but did not contribure to the death of Minnesota.

Whole Foods Markets said that it remembered ricotta salata being sold in 21 states and Washington, D.C. that came from its supplier Forever Cheese Inc. of Long Island City, New York.

The recalled Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese was cut into wedges, packaged in clear plastic wrap and sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label using PLU 293427.

Dates that illness was diagnosed range from 28 March, 2012 to 30 August, 2012 and all 14 ill persons were hospitalised.

The statement added: “The investigation is complex because ill persons reported consuming many different cheeses from many different retail locations.

“No one cheese was reported by the majority of ill persons, suggesting that cross-contamination of other cheeses through cutting boards and utensils may have played a role”.

Last week, Forever Cheese recalled all Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand manufactured in Italy.

The CDC said four of the illnesses were related to a pregnancy and the other 10 ill persons ranged in age from 56 years to 87 years, with a median age of 79 years and 55% were female.

They warned that the product has a four month shelf life, so contaminated cheese may still be in consumer’s refrigerators and may still be for sale in stores and is not the same as ricotta, which is a very soft cheese sold in plastic tubs.

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