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Another Cheese Recall in Washington State

Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson cheeses were recalled Friday by Yakima, WA-based Queseria Bendita.

The three cheeses may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, especially in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.  Listeria infection can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson cheeses are sold at Queseria Bendita’s retail store and were distributed in Washington and Oregon, where they are sold in Hispanic markets.

The Queso Fresco is packaged in one- and three-pound vacuum packed wheels; the Panela is vacuum packed in one- and three- pound sizes; and the Requeson is packed in eight-ounce and one- pound clear plastic tubs.

Each cheese has a green label identifying the type of cheese, the Queseria Bendita brand name, and a date code up to and including “Apr 30 2010”.

One confirmed illness in Washington State has been linked to the recalled products. Other illnesses in Washington and Oregon may also be related.

The public health investigation of the illnesses led to sampling and testing of the cheeses. The testing revealed the contamination of the product with Listeria monocytogenes.

The company has ceased production and distribution of the product while the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the cheese-maker investigate the source of the problem.

According to information on the company’s website, Queseria Bendita is a small operation in business since 2000 and makes primarily Queso Fresco, Requeson and sometimes Queso Panela.

It distributes to Hispanic specialty markets in Everett, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and Hillsboro, Oregon.

Sandra Aguilar, cheese maker and daughter of founder Benedita Aguilar, says their Requeson is a true whey cheese (like traditional ricotta) – made not from milk but from the whey by-product of the cheese-making process.

The curds are like little cloud pillows, soft and fluffy. The flavor is surprisingly complex for a fresh cheese, pleasantly dairy with slightly cooked, tangy caramel accents enhanced by salt.

Because this cow’s milk Requeson is said to be light, it’s very spreadable and could easily be combined with the flavorings of one’s choice, and/or stuffed into all manner of tortillas, chilies or even stirred into pasta.

Consumers who have purchased the product are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.  Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-509-574-8587 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Cookson Beecher contributed to this report.

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