The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reporting a listeria outbreak in California and Maryland connected to cheese. So far just eight people have been infected in the two states, but seven have been hospitalized and one (in California) has died. Five of the illnesses, two mother-newborn pairs and a newborn, were related to pregnancy.
All of the individuals affected thus far have been Hispanic and all reported consuming soft or semi-soft Hispanic-style cheese.
Furthermore, all shopped at different locations of the same food store, Mega Mart. Testing of cheese products collected from the chain's stores was performed in Maryland and Virginia.
Virginia found the outbreak strain in a sample of Caujada en Terron (fresh cheese curd) collected from the chain store. The cheese was produced by Roos Foods of Kenton, Del. and was later repackaged in the store.
The illnesses were diagnosed from Aug. 1, 2013 to Nov. 27, 2013.
The cheese was recalled on February 15 and consumer advisories and warnings about Roos cheese products were issued on February 19 and February 21. Roos manufacturers cheeses under the brand names Santa Rosa de Lima, Amigo, Anita, Mexicana, Suyapa, La Chapina and La Purisma Crema Nica brands. Roos has voluntarily recalled all lots and all types of cheese distributed under these brands, including Cuajada En Terron, Cuajada/Cuajadita Cacera, Cuajada Fresca, Queso Fresca Round and the Queso Dura Viejo hard cheeses – 16 varieties in all.
The products are packaged in flexible plastic bags and rigid plastic clam shell packages in 12-oz. and 16-oz. sizes. These products were distributed through retail stores in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The government is advising consumers to avoid any cheese products made by Roos foods and to avoid any foods made with those cheeses.
Listeriosis is a serious illness caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Anyone in a high-risk category, including pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, are more likely to experience a serious illness if infected.
The FDA says if you have any of these products, discard them or return them to the place of purchase for a refund. “Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, so keeping the cheeses refrigerated doesn't help,” the agency says in an advisory. “In addition, if you purchased these products, clean and sterilize the refrigerator and any objects that may have come in contact with the cheese. If you ate any of these products, monitor yourself for the symptoms of listeriosis for the next 70 days, because that's how long it can take for symptoms to appear in this illness.” Listeriosis can cause stillbirth and miscarriage in pregnant women and can be fatal, especially in high-risk groups. Of all of the food-borne illnesses, listeriosis is seriously no joke.
Recommendations for preventing listeriosis are available at the CDC listeria website.